This article was originally published in Waltzing Matilda Blog
It is true. Beethoven used the # to compose his immortal music and certainly wasn’t doing so with the intention of joining a Twitter chat or to check what people were sharing in the Hapsburg Empire in the late 18th century. He also had the choice of using other musical keys ♭ or ♮ and he knew how important it was to find the most suited to his music.
Memes apart, whether you are working on your next digital campaign, trying to attract buzz towards your latest online event or simply spread a message it is essential to create the best hashtag to achieve your goal simply. As bizarre as it sounds, hashtags are becoming an integral part of our lives. Just think that, the American Dialect Society crowned “hashtag” the word of the year, the French Commission Générale de terminologie de néologie recently adopted mot-dièse as an official new word and one couple even went as far as naming their child Hashtag…it is such a global social world.
Every hashtag has its own purpose and it is not a waste of time to investigate how you can optimize it. In the Social Media Team at DG COMM we often have to go on a “hashtag creation journey” where we gather for brainstorming sessions filled with question marks, possible scenarios, predictions and white boards full of suggestions. Nevertheless, at the end of the day there has to be only “one hashtag standing” (or maybe two). By thinking backwards to our most recent brainstorms, I could identify a few main principles we tend to stick to while forging a new hashtag, Namely, these are:
What will the hashtag be used for and who will be your target audience? As advocated in a previous post, audience segmentation can help you understand to who you are communicating to and how your target audience behaves in social media. This should be a two steps process:
Firstly, think about what you want to achieve. Are you looking for buzz, to gather a specific community, get scientific feedback, get your word out, be viral, etc…?
Secondly, think about who you want to target. Are you hoping to involve everyone, a few selected journalists, experts, pundits, etc…?
These questions largely depend on your target audience. If they are part of a small special interest group and are interested in closed conversations, creating a viral, trending tag would not be a priority so much as creating a tag that works well for the group members.
It is not compulsory to be unique but it is better to be original. If the hashtag you have in mind is being used already it will be hard to make it stand out of the crowd. You can make an exception if the hashtag you have in mind has been used scarcely. A number of free tools can help you check on the hashtag’s availability such as Hashtracking, Hashparty, or the simple Twitter search.
Always cover your angles. Before you settle on a hashtag, consider whether there might be any negative fallout. Even if the hashtag has never been used, it could be “owned” in the sense that it is already a common phrase familiar to others and being used in a context unrelated to your digital activity. If your hashtag is unintentionally offensive or inappropriate (also in other languages), it is unlikely to generate the outcome you look for.
Nothing kills a conversation quicker than running out of space. Don’t choose a long hashtag. There is not an ideal size for a hashtag but think how every character you’re using is one character less than the 140 you have at your disposal. i.e. #thisimyawesomenewhashtag will get you somebody’s attention but will kill the engagement. Less than 9 or 10 characters should do it.
It’s interesting to use initials, acronyms and abbreviations to keep your hashtag short. This works especially when your audience is already familiar with such form of shorthand like our recent #EUDeb8 or occasionally adding in the year like in #EYC2013.
Keep your goals in mind. Your hashtag will be promoted via other channels than your social media platforms. Whether you intend to use it continuously or intermittently it is good to consider how linked to your identity it is. Make sure your hashtags work as reflection of your long and short-term goals. Nevertheless hashtags are a user-generated feature of Twitter. Once you have your “newborn”, be ready to promote it via your traditional channels too and think of it as the “plaque” all users will identify YOU with.