Hashtags are inescapable these days. What started out as a techy way to organize and have conversations turned into a clever marketing technique. But now hashtags are as commonplace as URLs, and don't seem to be losing any steam. For brands, the allure is obvious, a simple phrase that helps drive customer engagement and increase your online following. And is a great way to encourage community and virality. But as with all marketing techniques, a poorly selected or executed hashtag will have none of these positive effects. So what exactly makes a good hashtag? What are some of the basic tips to follow when choosing a hashtag for your next event or campaign?

Be Clear

This one is obvious but can't be overstated. Pick a hashtag that matches the event or campaign. Don't be ambiguous, vague, or treat it as an opportunity to expose your brand name. If you want the hashtag to be successful, and have a chance of picking up steam, you need to have it mean something on it's own. In other words, #DominoesPizza is a horrible hashtag if you're running a campaign to promote "Free Pizza Day".

However, selecting a hashtag is only a part of the battle, you need to promote it clearly. This means publicizing your hashtag in a meaningful context, and making sure your audience understands the hashtag itself. Make your hashtag a visible part of your marketing campaign, don't leave it as an afterthought and place it in a tiny corner of your branding material, or in the very last half second of a video. If there are multiple words in the hashtag, then capitalize each word so that it is quick and easy to read. #FreePizzaDay is infinitely more readable than #freepizzaday.

Selecting Great Hashtags

Be Minimal

Similar to being clear, you also want to be minimal. This applies on many levels. For example, don't overload your campaign or a single post with too many hashtags. Avoid looking like spam, and don't spam hashtags onto your posts because you want people to notice you.

Don't run different hashtag campaigns every week. Social media moves fast, but you also want a certain campaign to have a chance at building some momentum and gaining some legs before swapping it out for another hashtag.

And most importantly, select a hashtag that isn't too long. There have been various studies and research indicating various optimal lengths for hashtags. But in our experience something between 3-18 characters is ideal. If you feel like your creating a long sentence or phrase, rethink it.

Remember, you want your users to be able to quickly type the hashtag while posting content, so the shorter it is the likelier it will be added. As with any tagline, you want to pick short and high impact words. Is there a way to shorten, remove, or use an acronym anywhere? Can you use numbers or other abbreviations? Can you think of a shorter tagline?

Remove your brand name from the hashtag. Own the hashtag by association not by force.

Choose #DSU2017 over #DelawareStateUniversityGraduation2017. Choose #UpliftYourSpirit over #SpiritualAwakeningConference. Choose #GetASlice over #DominoesFreePizzaContest.

Some popular campaigns that we've seen in the past include: #ShareACoke, #ALSIceBucketChallenge, #LikeAGirl, or #100HappyDays

Selecting Hashtags

Be Unique

Be sure to select a hashtag that isn't already being used or trending for other reasons. Use Twitter and Instagram search to find out if the hashtag you're planning is in use.

Make sure you aren't picking a hashtag used by another brand or for another purpose. Don't pick generic hashtags that people commonly use for all sorts of purposes, such as: #InstaFood, #Selfie, #NoFilter, #TBT, etc. Your posts will never make it through the noise.

Take the rules above about being clear, minimal, relevant, and most importantly be creative. Pick a tagline or phrase that is catchy and resonates with your audience.

Be Sure

After all is said and done and you have a hashtag selected, double check and make sure there aren't any unintended consequences or associations. And don't think this can't happen to you, even some big brands have unintentionally executed campaigns with some particularly bad hashtags. For example, one of the most famous unintentionally bad hashtags is Susan Boyle's album release #SusanAlbumParty. With capitalizations it doesn't appear so bad, but read it in all lower case and you get a not quite safe for work hashtag broadcasted to your entire audience.

Don't Pick A Bad Hashtag

And remember, once a hashtag is out there, it belongs to the community. And unlike a website, where you have control of the content and the message, a hashtag's very nature enables the community to take over the message. So be sure all the necessary collateral and related marketing is done so that once the campaign begins the hashtag is properly used. Prime the pump and seed the hashtag with your intended content prior to an official launch so that the community has an idea of the intent.

Hashtags are a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox. Selecting the right hashtag can be a tricky process, but as long as you keep some of these basic tips in mind, you'll better position yourself and your organization for a successful campaign. And finally before you launch, make sure you pick the right social media wall solution to properly engage and display all your user's content.

Follow us on Twitter at @getspotlyte to find out other tips on executing successful social media campaigns using hashtags.

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