Thinking of using hashtags as part of your social marketing? Before settling on the first hashtag that comes to mind, here are a couple of tips to avoid potentially embarrassing fails.

Read it. Then Read it Again.

Today this doozy showed up in my Twitter feed: 

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Singer Susan Boyle’s PR team wanted to promote an upcoming party for her new album yet depending on how your read the hashtag it looks like they might be promoting an all together different kind of party….Uh!?

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Lesson: If you’re going to combine multiple words to make up a hashtag, type out the words together and look closely to see if any undesirable words are formed. Susan Album Party looks ok at first but quickly becomes #SusAnalBumParty.

Check For Existing Content

Nowadays it’s almost impossible to find a generic hashtag that doesn’t have at least some content attached to it and a good practice is to check your hashtags ahead of time. Of course, you can’t own a hashtag and it can be co-opted anytime but if you check it out first, you’ll be able to see if other brands are using the same tag.  Remember to include obvious misspellings in your search.  Additionally, you’ll want to look carefully through some of the existing content attached to a hashtag and see if there is a cultural meme being discussed or any observable themes.

As an example, yoga wear clothing company, Lululemon, ran a 30 day Instagram photo challenge in September 2012.  The contest was titled “What the Focus” and used the hashtag #WTFSEPT.

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Now this one might not seem obvious at first, but if you were one of the many people checking out photos tagged #WTFSEPT during September, you were likely seeing pictures of people in yoga poses next to 9/11 memorial photos.

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As a brand, this was probably not the ideal experience it wanted to create for its audience. Granted, this was relatively short lived and the Lululemon content soon overwhelmed anything else using the same hashtag but it’s probably a good idea to be aware of what can happen and avoid these kinds of situations.

There are lots of tools out there to check hashtags and the easiest way is to do a search on Twitter and Instagram to see what comes up. A few rules of thumb:

  • Avoid hashtags with lots of content from many different users
  • Avoid hashtags with a high volume of recent activity
  • Keep it simple and try not to combine too many words
  • Incorporate your brand, slogan, or campaign name
  • Make it specific, avoid generic tags ie: #photocontest, #love, etc

Whether you’re using hashtags for your own content or aggregating / curating user-generated content, hashtags can be a valuable tool…just make sure to pick them carefully.