Q: I’m operating my fledgling company without a budget for advertising and marketing. Can I use social media hashtags to drive sales and build my business? If so, can you offer tips so I get the best results for my efforts?
A: For the uninitiated, hashtags—the # sign before phrases in social media—have changed how small businesses connect with customers. First used by Twitter in 2007, hashtags have been adopted by Pinterest, Instagram and other platforms. The symbol packs serious power.
Search #SparkandHustle (that’s my company) on these sites, and you’ll see what people are saying about my conferences for entrepreneurs. I’ve connected via hashtags with thousands of people to promote my business. Joining the ongoing conversation is an effective way to target audiences, serve them better and compete with rivals. In doing so, you should focus on two areas:
1. Incorporating hashtags in your social media posts to attract new fans and followers.
2. Searching hashtags to find people interested in what you have to offer.
Here are some ways to achieve objective No. 1. First, whenever you share content, include a relevant hashtag so your post can be found when your target audience searches for related help.
You should also piggyback on hashtags that are popular and tweet them, suggests Lena West of Influence Expansion Academy, an online business growth school. “If you work with small businesses, the #SMB hashtag is often used in tweets related to small-business concerns. If you use it, those tweets will come up on searches for that hashtag, leading to more visibility for your company.”
And you should create your own custom hashtag to enable anyone interested in your area of expertise to join the conversation, says Dana Lynch, whose Amplify-Mobile develops apps for small businesses. “Use it across platforms—a hashtag is useful only if followers know about it—so promote it everywhere users can find your brand,” she says.
Another tip from Lynch: Keep it short but simple—#thisistoolongandburdensometoread. “If your tag is that long, you don’t leave followers any characters to add their commentary, especially on Twitter.”
To search strategically (objective No. 2), let’s say you’re a weight-loss coach. You can search hashtags for phrases that your target audience uses—#cantloseweight or #hatethegym, for instance. Don’t start with selling. Pose a question to initiate engagement. For example, “How exactly are you struggling?” or “Tell me about your routine.”
You might also track competitors using hashtags to see what people are saying about them. Searching the hashtags #fitness and #exercise allows you to see what other fitness gurus or people interested in fitness are talking about. When you have something meaningful and valuable to contribute, you should jump into the conversation, make connections and increase your visibility.
Of course, you’d simply adapt your searches if you’re a jewelry designer, photographer, personal chef, wedding planner, career coach, shoe store owner, etc.