As more and more social networks (Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) add the beloved #hashtag to their repertoire, learning how to properly use this tool on each platform is key to #success. By simply incorporating #hashtags into your social content, you can further your reach and expand your audience. However, one must be wary of the potential perils of using the #hashtag.

Let’s start at the beginning with #Hashtags, a History. Hashtags first entered our social world in 2007 on Twitter. Chris Messina (@factoryjoe) had the bright idea to incorporate the symbol for groups to communicate. From there, the pound symbol took on a whole new meaning. Hashtags became a vital part of the Twitter world, and spread to being incorporated in everyday conversations (you know you’ve said #firstworldproblems before). Eventually, other platforms began to pick it up, and we were seeing hashtags on Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and Facebook. Now, how do we use hashtags on the all the different platforms? Here are a few #marketing tips from us here at Command Partners.

Twitter

1. Extend Reach – Using #hashtags in your Tweets gets your message to new people because it puts your content in that conversation. However, you have to make sure you add value to the topic, otherwise shameless promotions will look like exactly what they are, spam. An example would be including #travel in your tweet about the 10 best portable chargers. Yes, you are promoting something, but it is relevant and useful for users that are searching #travel on Twitter. Another way to expand reach is to incorporate trending topics in your posts. By Tweeting out content that is relevant to the trending hashtag, your Tweet will be seen by all participating in the conversation. Tweeting with hashtags allows you to reach out to those that don’t follow you, and show that your brand is engaging and human.

2. Tweet Chats – Exactly how it sounds, Tweet chats are conversations on Twitter around a certain hashtag. Sticking with our travel theme, one popular Tweet chat is #ttot (travel talk on Twitter). Every week at 5:30pm EDT (or 9:30am and 9:30pm GMT), those with a bad case of wanderlust rush to their computers to answer 5 travel-related questions. Participating in Tweet chats (again, shameless plugs frowned upon) is a great way to extend your reach, build relationships and gain awareness with focused communities.

3. Build Brand Awareness – Creating a hashtag that is associated with your brand that shows a bit of brand character is a great way to increase awareness. An example is #TheStufofLegend from you guessed it, @Oreo. To help spread word that their mega stuffed Oreos had returned, the brand incorporated the hashtag in some fun Tweets. These Tweets encouraged followers to engage with the hashtag by RTing (Re-Tweeting, duh) and posting that #TheStufofLegend, therefore alerting all of their followers that the mega-awesome Oreos were back. To promote their hashtags, Oreo added their hashtags to their TV ads. This hashtag helped to initiate conversation and keep people Tweeting about the brand with the #StufofLegend hashtag. For smaller brands that don’t have Oreo’s clout (yes, with a c), it’s best to piggyback on an already popular hashtag to build brand awareness. Whether it is adding to the conversation on a trending hashtag or incorporating well-known hashtags regularly in your Tweets, it is much easier to utilize the power of a popular hashtag to start the foundation of building brand awareness.

4. Conferences – A very important function of hashtags is using them in real time at conferences. While at conferences, attendees use the event hashtag, such as #SXSW and #CannesLions, to interact with each other and those not at the conference. It allows for them to live Tweet various speakers, ask questions, reply to other Tweets and much more all in real time.

Facebook

1. Expand Reach – Seeing as Facebook just recently added hashtags (June 12th, 2013), there are varied opinions on whether adding a hashtag to your post actually helps. On one hand, throwing in a hashtag is a great way to target niche topics, and can get your post to people who may not have seen your post otherwise. However, there is also the thought that adding a hashtag to your Facebook post could hinder your reach and engagement. Just because Facebookers are using a hashtag in their posts, their privacy settings still remain and protect them from being completely public. Edgerank Checker found that content with hashtags on Facebook actually had a lower reach and engagement compared to posts without hashtags. Our best suggestion? Try it out and monitor your Facebook Insights to see if using #hashtags makes a difference.

2. Campaigns and Contests Across Social Platforms – It is no secret that Facebook is the big dog in the social media platforms world. Before that fateful day in June, marketers were using everything from Twitter to Google+ to Instagram to Pinterest for #campaigns and #contests, and Facebook was excluded from the mix. However, after Facebook integrated hashtags, marketers can now run #campaigns and #contests across all social networks, and monitor them easily. Tools like #tagboard allow you to see any social media post with a specific hashtag. Also, Facebook offers its own monitoring system, https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/socialmedia, for you to see public posts with that hashtag.

3. Relevant Conversations – When you click on a specific hashtag on Facebook, it shows other hashtags that are relevant to that topic. With#socialmedia for example, Facebook also brings up #marketing, #facebook and #Twitter. Participating and monitoring relevant conversations gives marketers an insight into what this niche group of users is also talking about, and allows them to include those hashtags in their future posts.

Instagram

1. Consumer Engagement – Using hashtags on Instagram is nothing new. From brands (#cocacola or #starbucks) to lifestyles (#farmlife or #travel) to holidays and events (#christmas or #SXSW) to times of the day/week (#tbt or #sunset), there is a hashtag for that. By participating in these various hashtags, Instagram allows marketers to easily interact with fellow Instagramers in a fun and easy way. By adding a #tbt post in there, it helps extend brand reach because their filtered photo will show up in that #search.

2. Build and Manage a Brand – Hashtags on Instagram are also great for brands to monitor what consumers are saying about them, and show a bit of brand personality. One of the best brands on Instagram is Starbucks. With 1.5 million users following the brand account, and over 5 million Instagrams tagged with #starbucks, obviously the brand is doing something right. Yes, the brand posts plenty of pictures of Frappuccinos and Macchiatos, but they also post holiday related pictures, people loving their delicious coffees and more. All in all, their Instagrams give followers a feeling of the brand personality. Plus, by keeping an eye on all #starbucks posts, they can monitor the conversations surrounding their brand.

#CocaCola Instagram

3. User Generated Content – Also known as, social media gold. When brands can get their fans to share their own personal thoughts, comments and pictures on social media, there is nothing better. It shows that consumers care about the brand and feel included, which means the brand’s social media has succeeded in building relationships. One brand that does this better than almost all is Coca-Cola. With over 1.8 million Instagram photos tagged with the #CocaCola, it is obvious that fans LOVE their Coca-Cola. Users from around the world snap images of their cans and bottles, add a filter and share their Instagram for all to see with #CocaCola, a universal hashtag that is understood across all languages. Since user generated content is deemed more trustworthy by customers, the abundance of #CocaCola Instagrams shows that brand loyalty runs deep, and that Coca-Cola is definitely a top brand on social media.

Pinterest

1. Brand Awareness – When trying to build awareness for an account on Pinterest, it is important to find the niche topics that you will excel in, and focus on those. For example, for a home decor magazine, adding #DIY to interesting and relevant pins that add something to the pinversation (pinning + conversation) will make your brand stand out to those searching or following that hashtag. However, don’t put 15 hashtags on one pin because that will just scream spam, and ruin your brand reputation. Being active and sharing images on Pinterest helps gain the attention of users, and encourages them to learn more about your brand. This brand activity will ultimately drive traffic to your website and, hopefully, convert more leads into consumers.

2. Campaigns and Contests – Whether your brand wants to promote a new fashion line, promote a campaign to show new home decor ideas or start a contest on Pinterest, hashtags are key. It is important to create a unique and original hashtag, because it will help people find the correct content, and will be simple for you to track on the platform. Also, by including a brand hashtag in your product pins, your content will be easy for consumers to discover it, and get more information about your brand. Since hashtags are now on most major social networks, you can push the #contest on your brand’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. By promoting the #contest on these other platforms, you help gain awareness for the contest, and encourage fans on all your social networks to participate in the Pinterest contest. In the end, using a unique hashtag for Pinterest campaigns and contests that can be shared on Twitter, Facebook and more helps spread awareness, encourage engagement and shows brand consistency across all your social networks.

The art of using and monitoring hashtags correctly across the different social media platforms can definitely be challenging. From Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to Pinterest, discovering the best ways to use the #tool takes practice and experience. That is why, when in doubt, seek out help. Whether you’re looking to expand your reach on Twitter, implement a Facebook contest, create an Instagram opportunity for user generated content or build brand awareness on Pinterest, contact the social media marketing experts over at Command Partners for help!