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Can Facebook Hashtags Bring New Visitors to Your Page?

By Marcia Richards Suelzer, MA, JD | July 17, 2013

Facebook users often insert hashtag mark-up into their posts, mimicking the popular aggregation feature available on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. But, until recently these tags have been akin to an emoticon—useful for emphasis, but not functional.

In mid-June, Facebook announced that hashtag mark-up is now functional and can now be used to aggregate information in the same way that it is used by other social media.This development has implications for the social media-savvy business owner.

Work Smart

A hashtag is a word or string of words preceded by the pound symbol (#) that is related to, or descriptive of, the rest of the content in a social media post. Hashtags promote social media conversations about events, people and businesses.

Ideally the tag should be short (biz, rather than business) and not more than three words. The words must be typed without spaces and punctuation, so make sure that when they are combined they still read well. For example, #biztoolkit could be used as a hashtag to aggregate all posts related to this website.

Searching using a hashtag as the search term produces list of all posts that include that hashtag. This enables the searcher to find content that other users (including businesses) viewed as relevant.

Bear in mind that, unlike Twitter, most Facebook content is not freely accessible to the public. Therefore, the search will return only public pages (such as business pages) and posts that are shared with the user conducting the search. 

Warning

There are no standards or conventions governing hashtags—each user creates his or her own, although many do try and ride the wave of trending hashtags. Nor is there a way to sort or filter the list that is returned: The list may contain completely unrelated posts and posts from throughout the world.

For example, a recent search for the hashtag #target returned posts related to a stolen bike, a computer programming term, and sales target projections, in a variety of languages, in addition to those related to the major retail chain.

This means that you must put thought into the words you choose—in the same way you think through an advertising slogan or catch-phrase.

In addition to embedding a functional hashtag in a post, Facebook users can become part of a larger conversation by:

  • Searching for a specific hashtag from your search bar, such as #Blackhawks
  • Clicking on hashtags that originate on other services, such as Instagram
  • Composing posts directly from the hashtag feed and search results

How Can Hashtags Help Your Business?

For national brands, the appeal of the Facebook hashtag is obvious. In announcing this new feature, Facebook stated that “there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook - roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night” And, that’s only during evening prime time hours.

For a smaller business, the value is less obvious. Reaching 100 million Americans is helpful only if a significant number of those individuals are in a position to purchase your products or services. Facebook-Studio.com suggests leveraging your existing use of hashtags on other social media, while remembering that the “same creative best practices on Facebook still apply – compelling copy and photography that is in the brand voice works best.”

Three Tips to Use Hashtags Effectively

In addition to keeping your focus on your overall social media strategy, what else can you do to benefit from the new hashtag feature? Here are three tips.

Build your brand. Pick one or two words that highlights the most compelling aspect of your business or that incorporates your business name and tag your posts with that. Encourage your followers to place the hashtag into their posts.

Promote your community. Facebook pages have already proven valuable in helping merchants cross-promote their goods and services and in highlighting local events. The hashtag is another means to this end. Join with other businesses to insert your community’s name as a hashtag in all your posts. By doing so, your posts will become visible to those in the community who may not have liked your page.

Work Smart

Reach out to all the businesses in your area to agree on what hashtag to use. Remember, if you are the only one using a hashtag, you will be talking to only yourself. For example, a recent search on the hashtag #fairfax returned numerous results, but #fairfaxcity and #fairfaxva returned only one.

Use best practices. More than three hashtags at the end of your post looks unprofessional, as would a string of emoticons after a sentence in a email. In addition, be aware of alternative associations for the words used in your hashtag. One famous hashtag gaffe involved an online clothing store that tweeted that the trending #aurora hashtag must have been inspired by one of its latest dress styles—when the trend was, in fact, a result of the Aurora theater shooting.

Local businesses may be less at risk for hopping on the wrong trending tag, but you should be aware of alternative meaning and slang terms when creating your hashtags. When selecting your core branding hashtag, you should run it by several others to make sure that it is clear, appealing, and easy to recall and spell.

Overall, the hashtag can be an effective addition to your social media strategy. For the small business owner, the maximum value will be achieved by working with others in your community to create a local brand which can post views for all participating pages.

Marketing

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