You know you have that one friend (OK, maybe five friends) who hashtag everything they say on Facebook. They annoy the crap out of you and yet you sit back and say nothing because after all, you might not even know (1) what a hashtag really is (2) why they do it or (3) don’t want to start anything uncomfortable online. Can I get a “Yeah Buddy!” on that?
Hashtags really are just like the bumper stickers you see in this picture. They can be overwhelming, distracting and downright an eyesore. When used correctly, they have relevance and great power. When abused, they can steal the thunder of your messaging.
So, what is a hashtag? The way I explain them that makes it easiest to understand in the financial services community is this: If you’re at all familiar with email, hashtags are just like the subject line. Hashtags are a conversation thread that can be searched and followed. For that reason alone, hashtags are an amazing attribute of social networking platforms. Hashtags can help organize groups of people share ideas at a conference, launch a Tweetchat to drive a discussion around a new insurance concept and depending on how clever you are (like Smokey Bones Restaurants is using #RedWhiteAndBBQ for Independence Day) – you can use them to help support a campaign.
Hashtags are abused by those who do not understand how to use them properly. I’m less annoyed with teenagers who use hashtags because they really are the only group of digital users who are doing social media for no ROI (Return on Investment). They use social media as a means to an end: a conversation. I am bothered when I see adults who are abusing them because they think they are now hip, groovy social media users. Someone needs to pinch them and say, “You’re not cool. You’re annoying. Stop it.”
Much like the plethora of game requests you receive on Facebook, hashtags can be distracting and make your message look really dumb. [I need to pay attention more closely and see if those who are abusing the hashtag are also the game request senders. Things that make you go, “Hmm?“] My advice for those who really feel the need to hashtag, limit it on Facebook to just one. If you’re on Twitter, keep it under three. Instagram – go hog nuts. They love them there.
How do we make this crazy hashtagging stop? We must use our voices – both digital and #IRL [in real life]. I solicit feedback as kindly as possible and tell folks in passing [not directed at them], “I find I tune out the posts that have all those hashtags on them. It makes it really difficult to read the message.” Educating those who are excited to use social media requires gentle critiquing. I would never want to deter someone from using social media…ever. I want them to have the best return on impact (my form of ROI) for the message they are delivering.
There was an AWESOME write-up recently about hashtag use that you can find here. This does a little more deep-diving into what works best and why. Anyone who likes to analyze things will really enjoy it.
Have an awesome #4thofJuly #FourthOfJuly #July4th #IndependenceDay no matter how you wish to word it or celebrate it. Be safe and remember that no matter what advice I’ve shared here, this wonderful country we all live in will say, “Use as many hashtags as you want to – it’s your right!”
Be Bigger, Better and more BIONIC!
Sheryl Brown / @BIONICsocialite