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Social Media Promotion For Authors - Understanding Hashtags

Up until recently I was leading social media for a large B2C company.  Every once in a while someone from marketing or legal would ask if we could copyright a hashtag, or would request that we register a hashtag in some way, mistakenly thinking the company could actually own a hashtag. I would chuckle a little, then do what I could to explain what a hashtag was and how it is used.

So let’s start there. What exactly is a hashtag?

The first hashtags started up on Twitter nearly ten years ago. Using a pound sign (or in the UK it’s called a hash) it allows any word or group of words to be turned into a searchable link. As an example:

  

 

In the above tweet, I used the hashtag #Italy to add additional searchability to the tweet. Twitter is on its own fairly searchable, so if I searched for the word “Rome” it’s possible my tweet would come up without the hashtag. Adding #Italy and #travel will help make this tweet visible to a wider audience. Also, if you click on those hashtags it will take you to a stream within twitter of all the tweets on that hashtag in real time.

Hashtags are not own-able, not copyright-able, and are definitely not exclusive to you. Anyone can use any hashtag that they desire which means there are a lot of hashtags out in the world.  Fortunately there are strategies you can employ to make the hashtags you choose work best for you.

One of the key things about hashtags is to think about what you want them to do for you. Hashtags are not a campaign. They are not going to make or break your tweet or your project. For the most part, they are meant to:

  1. Help categorize content (e.g. #fiction),
  2. show support for an issue (e.g. #PrayforParis),
  3. indicate an action that others can identify with (e.g. #amwriting), or
  4. track a conversation or event (e.g. #Muse16). 

Sometimes they take on a meme format, such as one that is trending as I’m writing this, #ruinanoldsaying.  

You’ll often see them used facetiously as well, to convey sarcasm or humor in some way such as #WhatWasIThinking or #DerriereInTheChair (which goes well with #amwriting), but those hashtags aren’t useful much beyond the specific reaction that might occur in the moment of it being read.

When it comes to garnering more eyeballs on the content you might be sharing about your work, typically your goal should be to either a. give more people the ability to access your content or b. streamline commentary (for example using a conference hashtag so that you can easily see all conversation related to that event).  If you are using a hashtag that doesn’t do one of those two things you might want to rethink your choice of hashtag. An obscure hashtag that someone wouldn’t easily choose to look for on their own doesn’t do much for you.

You can use hashtags in a variety of places these days, not just on Twitter. You can use them on Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Pinterest.  That said, I find them most useful on Twitter, Instagram and Vine and that’s where you’ll tend to see them used most often.

Here are a few more tips on how to make the most of hashtags:

  • Don’t overuse hashtags. As a general rule of thumb try not to use more than three. Too many hashtags looks ridiculous and may make you seem a bit desperate to the reader.
  • Using your own name or a brand in a hashtag may not work well unless you are so well known that by doing so you might be able to generate the type of steam that comes from many users that latch onto the hashtag (e.g. #NikeAir)
  • Simple is better. Again this goes back to how your audience may be using hashtags. You want them to find your content easily and the best hashtags are ones that they might think of using on their own.
  • Do some research on what hashtags resonate most with the audience you are trying to reach. For example when I am targeting other writers I may use #amwriting or #writers. When I’m sharing about my book which might appeal to a particular audience I might use #italy and #ancientrome.
  • You can use hashtags in a sentence, such as:

And finally, here’s how you shouldn’t use hashtags…

Happy Thanksgiving!

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About the Author

Crystal King is a 25-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the forthcoming THE CHEF'S SECRET (February 12, 2019, Touchstone Books) about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.com

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