With nearly 2 billion monthly active users across social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter alone, it’s no secret that a business can benefit from social media. But many business owners (large and small) still seem to be as perplexed today as they were five years ago. Business owner: meet the hashtag!

When I first started my own Social Business Agency, I began teaching a “Social Media Basics For Business” courses. By far, the most common question I received was about the hashtag: what it was, what it did, and why it was used.

My goal was to come up with creative ways to unravel and simplify digital marketing for business owners who were ready to learn how to step up their games.

Meet the hashtag: the modern day water cooler

I once heard someone describe a hashtag as a “water cooler” for modern times. This resonated with me, strangely, because, as a life-long entrepreneur, I hadn’t actually had much exposure to the “old fashioned” water cooler. But the concept was firmly ingrained.

For those of you who remember gathering around a (literal) water cooler in office buildings, you remember the water cooler as a place during the week where colleagues gathered to discuss the bombshell from some certain tv series from the previous night, inter-departmental happenings, or the latest stats around the sport of the season.

Coming back to teaching: I began using the analogy of the water cooler in the office and for many of my students, comparing the water cooler to a hashtag made all the difference, at least on a basic level. We can drill deeper into the nuances in other posts.

davitydave_flickr_human_hashtag_When people gather around a common interest, we form bonds. We discuss, agree, disagree, convince, cite examples, share stories, and hopefully, we derive some benefit, maybe even have a laugh or a chuckle.

A hashtag, like a water cooler, provides that space. The beauty of finding common ground in our lives, human-to-human, is that the conversations can continue indefinitely, deepening understanding, which can deepen relationships.

Whether it’s a hot topic like world events, or everyday discussion about favorite products, recommended services, kids, dogs, cats, or childhood anecdotes, the hashtag today, is the modern day #watercooler.

Businesses are run by people, people are human, and we all have distinct lives. Yet, we can always find common ground, across every topic conceivable.

A hashtag provides a space for people to meet, bond, and deepen relationships. Click To Tweet

What does the hashtag mean for you as a business or brand?

If you are in business, you want to be the subject of a hashtag –for the right reasons, of course.

At the very least, you would also want to draw attention to yourself (again, in a “good way”).

How?

Well, as a business and brand, you should use hashtags to get in on conversations about topics and life events relevant to you and your customers (remember, the real people behind your “target audience”).

The key to being seen and heard is finding what is relevant for your particular brand, in the online world (i.e. including hashtags), as well as offline.

How do you discover what is relevant to your audience? Listen – much more than you speak.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, a marketing and sales mentor of mine said: “God gave us two ears and one mouth. So, listen twice as much as you speak.”

Today, listening takes place online, more than ever, and this is not in lieu of everyday contact with customers offline, in brick-and-mortar shops or at conferences and events.

Listening is an art, it’s the thread woven into every great company that grows over time…and those who practice this, and do it well, produce results.

Business Hashtag Strategy: Ears and Eyes on the Hashtag

Employing a valuable and solid hashtag strategy is still one of the biggest mysteries in our business world.

Companies of all sizes are missing out on opportunities to engage, strengthen relationships and build an online community.

Why?

Companies aren’t listening. They don’t understand how to use hashtags, and that the hashtag is the modern day water cooler.

In fact, I widely hear business owners saying that they are irritated seeing them on posts and tweets. My answer?

Instead of being irritated, here are a few easy tips to make hashtags pay off for you over time:

  • Click on those hashtags and get in on those conversations, appropriate to your business. Learn to “tap the shoulders” of those standing around that “virtual water cooler”
  • Join any number of Tweetchats, monitor hashtags relevant to your industry,
  • or simply follow a hashtag of interest and say hello.  Engage in conversation, share your own insights, and become a trusted and valuable source around that particular topic.

Remember: #MannersMatter

fallowshow_thank-you

Here’s a nuance you may not have thought of: common manners, the old-fashioned ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘how-do-you-do’, and virtual smiles can go a long way. Positivity wins. Just like being in-person with
others, you wouldn’t “crash” a conversation with negativity or rudeness. Join in, and like any social situation, introduce yourself, using the same manners you would in real life.  

Are you ready to embrace your inner hashtag? If not, what are your hesitations about employing a hashtag strategy for your social business? What other analogies have helped you convince friends, business partners, or colleagues to harness the power of hashtags? Thanks for joining me here on the Purematter Blog! I look forward to your questions and comments.

 Image sources: human hastag via davitydave, gif via the Jimmy fallon show.

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Lynn Abaté-Johnson is a social media marketing specialist, community builder, entrepreneur, mentor and principal Consultant at Peoplefw.com She helps business owners, teams, and senior management understand how to build social businesses by placing people-first.

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