Highlight your value with a splash of hashtags
One of my favourite quotes from the book Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley is:
What do you stand for? What do you stand against ?
Our values determine the direction we take and the decisions we make in our business. If you’re confident about the value you provide to your clients, those who value what you stand for will choose to work with you.
Businesses that are unclear about their value are easy to recognise. Their online marketing is smothered with hashtags, like hundreds and thousands. The content looks interesting, but it's a bit of a mess. Used sparingly, however, hashtags add a sprinkling of clarity to your messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Hashtags are better than an elevator pitch
When I'm at business networking meetings, like Bisham Business Biscotti, it's common for us small business owners to share our elevator pitch. But I've recently started feeling that these three-minute pitches are quite restrictive. Yes, I do marketing. Yes, I train people on how to use CRM. But I think what's most important is your approach. With so many businesses carrying out similar activities these days, we need to differentiate ourselves. It helps to carve yourself a niche (mine is providing CRM and marketing services in multiple European languages). But I think it's your business ethos and the values that underlie your approach that are more important.
If you google 'Nike', you'll see their strapline is "Inspiration and innovation for every athlete". It's a brand that is all-inclusive. It's motivating. The single hashtag referenced on their Twitter profile encompasses that ethos:
What's your hashtag shortlist?
An innocent question I ask business owners is:
Which words would you add to your hashtag shortlist?
I ask them to write down a list of no more than five hashtags that sum up all the things they do, talk about and share as part of their marketing campaigns.
Their answer reveals more about their business than they realise. Having to restrict yourself to a handful of hashtags forces you to hone in on the ones that truly represent what you do. They embody the heart of your business.
Why not try it now? Take a pen and write down the key words that express your business value to your customers. I'm going to tell you mine, so I hope you'll tell me yours in a comment at the bottom of this post.
#KeepItSimpleMarketing or #KISM
These are the hashtags I use regularly and consistently. Every service I provide to my customers is reflected in one or more of these hashtags.
Take a good look at yourself
To distill your list, take a look at the posts you share on Facebook or Twitter. What are their common themes? Do you love sharing quotes? What kind of quotes are they? Do they inspire a particular behaviour? Which posts receive the most engagement?
Do you share photographs? What are they of? One of my favourite posts recently was a snapshot of me using a child-size umbrella as a pointer in class. The organic reach was 538 just for that snap:
Why did I share it? Just for fun! I guess I felt it demonstrated something about my approach to teaching – that it should be fun as well as practical. And I suppose the fact that I spotted it as an opportunity of something to share demonstrates my creativity in terms of marketing. It generated some comments – "Mary Poppins!" - and some lighthearted conversation. All of which help extend your organic reach on Facebook.
What kinds of post do you write? What articles do you like sharing? What's the common subject they refer to?
Reduce your long list to a shortlist of general terms
You’ve probably written down a long list of ten or even twenty hashtags. When I first tried this exercise, the list of things I typically wrote about and the content I shared included:
These are all very specific topics. So I asked myself WHY I share what I do. There are probably three main reasons. I share this type of content because I love to:
- Show small businesses how to market their business successfully, even when they have limited resources
- Demonstrate how speaking and writing more clearly improves the way we communicate with one another and helps us understand one another better
- Share ideas for using technology to achieve more in less time
Although those themes are quite broad, I was able to summarise them in my shortlist of five hashtags:
#KeepItSimpleMarketing or #KISM
Some of my topics fit into one or more of these categories:
- CRM belongs to both #productivity and #KISM
- My marketing tips belong in #creativity and #KISM
It's best to select words that are short and easy to understand - and spell! General terms are more suitable, because they can incorporate several topics. I could have chosen 'language' but I think it’s too long. #Words is much broader and encompasses many things: foreign languages, grammar, writing style and web copy. As a linguist, I love sharing these kinds of posts:
- Unusual English words and their definition
- Images or infographics that depict foreign words
- Tips about writing content and web copy
I can tag them all with my #words category.
So your primary hashtags should be 'general' buckets that have the potential to contain lots of related topics.
Don't be a copycat
You learnt that copying your best friend in school exams was wrong. It won't help you in business either. Copying your competitor's list of hashtags won't gain you anything in the long term. You need a list that is authentic for your business. It should summarise what YOU stand for and the value your business provides.
Think about what makes you you. Copycat businesses don't work. If you don't understand how you're different, how will your prospective customers know why they should choose to work with your business rather than a competitor?
This quote by Neil Gaiman in his keynote address to The University of the Arts in 2012 is spot on:
Do the stuff that only you can do. The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that's not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we've sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.
Do your own thing
If you don't feel entirely comfortable sharing certain things on social media platforms, my advice is – Don’t! Your readers will instantly notice if you share an inspirational quote that doesn't really resonate with your brand or business persona. If it doesn't feel natural, don't do it. Ignore all the marketing gurus who tell you that you HAVE to use quotes on Facebook and Twitter. If you don't love quotes and wordplay yourself, it will feel fake.
Think about your personality. What would you do in real life? If you prefer facts, then share facts. If you prefer to keep things a bit private, then do. Trust your gut instinct. This doesn't mean you won't attract customers. It just means you'll attract individuals who appreciate your value and with whom your message resonates.
If you'd like a few tips on how to use Facebook for business, you may find this blog post helpful.
Practice using your hashtags daily
You must keep sharing consistent content regularly. For Facebook, you need to share at least one post a day – even at weekends. People notice your rhythm. They get used to reading your content at a certain time of day.
Personally, I tend to share early in the morning, between 7am and 7.45am (as people are getting up or going to work) and in the evening, about 5.30pm. If I share something I really love at 3pm in the afternoon, it typically flops! It's better to save that content for later and schedule to post it the next morning, even if I'm really excited about sharing it. I have to be patient and hold out.
You don't have to restrict yourself to only five hashtags. You can introduce different content for a change or a bit of fun. I tend to share #FridayFlowers, since I love flowers. It's not work-related – it's just my way of ending the week.
Use your hashtags anywhere and everywhere
I'm surprised some marketers seem to think hashtags are useless on Facebook. I disagree. Firstly they make it clear to your reader what your post is about. They allow you to categorise what you're sharing, so you can analyse which posts get the most reach. They also add clarity to your message and demonstrate that you've thought carefully about the purpose of what you're sharing. Your readers can also use them to easily search relevant content tagged with the same hashtag. I use them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Short, simple hashtags are the cherry on top
- Choose a handful of hashtags to support your online marketing
- Keep asking yourself "Am I on topic?" Which of my hashtags applies to this post?
- Ensure your communication is authentic by regularly reviewing your values
If you'd like some personal feedback on hashtags you're using right now, please send me an email or comment below.
Priestley, Daniel (2015). Oversubscribed. UK: Wiley.
Written by Vanessa Hunt
Vanessa worked as an independent CRM Consultant from 2006, before establishing Vanessa Hunt Consulting Ltd in January 2010. She's held training and management positions in software organisations and consultancies such as Maximizer Software Ltd, McAfee, Detica and CSC Computer Sciences. With twenty years' experience in training, marketing and CRM, she's very much at home in anything martech, CRM or cloud related. When she's not in the classroom in heels, she's outdoors in muddy boots!