Comment: Hashtags and how to use them correctly

#HowToUseThemCorrectly

Opinion, Columnists, Comment & analysis

Going through my past columns for Hotelier Middle East, I realised that since starting in 2013, I have never written about hashtags. #Odd #Story #Indeed.

Even odder, because hashtags are, of course, everywhere these days. Originally only used on Twitter, the rise of Instagram brought the humble hashtag into the mainstream and saw its usage grow exponentially. Most recently, LinkedIn finally jumped on the hashtag bandwagon.

Despite their popularity and history, I noticed that there are many of us who still seem to be a little unsure when it comes to how to use hashtags, where and when to use them, which ones to use, and how to find the best. So here goes: Martin’s nifty hashtag primer for hotels and restaurants.

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Let’s start off with recognising the importance and usefulness of (good) hashtags. They help people find things online and, on many platforms, help your content to get more views and higher engagement. On Twitter, tweets with hashtags get two times more engagement than those without. On Instagram, two or more hashtags in a post results in approximately 41% more interactions. Hashtags also help you build and grow your brand and have, essentially, become an important part of a brand’s infrastructure.

So we should all be using more hashtags everywhere, right? Wrong! What we should do is use the right hashtags in the right places at the right times. Let me explain:

As great as hashtags are on Twitter and Instagram, they are rubbish on Facebook, where they will actually lower engagement and visibility, especially for pages with fewer than 10,000 followers.

Equally, over-hashtagging lowers engagement on virtually all platforms. Using more than two in a tweet wipes out virtually all the benefits of Twitter hashtags and makes tweets look spammy. On Instagram, where people have a tendency to #hashtag #everything #into #oblivion, the ideal number per post is somewhere around 11. Using more hashtags does not translate into higher visibility and increased engagement.

For LinkedIn, reliable figures aren’t available yet, because the platform only introduced hashtags properly a little while ago following a few failed experiments in the past. Initial observations suggest these work very well now and adding two to three hashtags to your LinkedIn posts can be very beneficial.

Even if you use hashtags in all the right places, you might not be seeing results, because you’re using the wrong ones. Just like fruits and vegetables, hashtags come in all shapes and sizes. You wouldn’t add apples to a tomato soup or serve rotten dates to your guests. Avoid spammy hashtags which impact your brand image and attract low-quality followers and bots. If you or your social media agency is still using hashtags like #like4like, #followforfollow, #mustfollow, #instagood, or #tag4like, you need to stop right now.

Instead, use hashtags that describe what a post, your company, or your brand are about, and use a good mix of brand (e.g. #FourSeasons), descriptive (e.g. #DubaiHotels), and audience-specific hashtags (e.g. #SteakLovers or #BusinessTravel).

There are a number of tools that can help you find good hashtags or let you analyse the effectiveness of your current hashtags. Search for ‘Hashtagify’, ‘Rightag’, or simply ‘helpful hashtag tools’, and you’ll find numerous options, many of which are free or offer free trials.

Two commonly asked questions are whether capitalisation matters and whether hashtags, on Instagram, should be put in the main image caption field or in the comments. The answer to both is: It doesn’t matter. Having said that, when it comes to capitalisation, it certainly helps to makes hashtags more readable. It’s easier to get #MartinIsAnAwesomeConsultant than #martinisanawesomeconsultant.

Many hashtags are made up of several words. Usually that doesn’t pose an issue, but it does mean that you have to read them carefully to make sure you’re not inadvertently creating a hashtag that contains unsuitable combinations. The PR team for British singer Susan Boyle, in attempt to publicise the launch of her latest album, once created #susanalbumparty and RIM, the maker of Blackberry devices, sought to attract job seekers with #RIMjobs.

Just a reminder: Do not use special characters. #BreatheInAndOut works fine for a yoga campaign, but #BreatheIn&Out doesn’t, because the ampersand breaks the hashtag.

Do not give into the temptation of tying into trending hashtags if they have nothing to do with your business. It is okay for a hotel in Dubai to use #DubaiSummerSurprises if the hotel is participating in the activities, but it’s not okay to use #ThailandCaveRescue if the hotel had nothing to do with this heroic act. Tying into unrelated trending hashtags simply to increase the visibility of your content can backfire spectacularly — just search for “Kenneth Cole + Cairo Hashtag” and you’ll see.

Lastly, keep an eye on the hashtags you use. If you have created new hashtags for your business or for a specific campaign, keep monitoring them to make sure they’re not being hijacked by unsavoury third parties or competitors. Hashtag hijacking is a thing and again Google is your friend. Even if you’re not creating new hashtags, but rely on using existing one, it’s worthwhile to check the health of your hashtags regularly. Platforms like Instagram regularly ban hashtags if they ‘go bad’. You can search for ‘banned hashtags’ and look at the latest lists. Hint: Do not do this at work and definitely, whatever you do, do not click on any of the banned hashtags if you’re easily offended or have others looking at your screen.

Try and mix up your hashtags regularly and do not use the same 20 on all your posts. Remember that hashtags should help people discover your content, so using exactly the same ones on an image of your rooms and an image of your latest restaurant opening is unlikely to do that.

Whatever you do: #KeepItSocial!

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: hello@spsaffinity.com.

For all the latest hospitality news from UAE, Gulf countries and around the world, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page.

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