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Hashtags: A How-To for Success

By July 31, 2014Social Media

Part II

As a group, we marketers love us a good “how-to” guide. It’s not that we necessarily want to be told what to do or become automatons (although Ayelet does have her social media minions, but that’s not really the same thing).


A good how-to process can provide a basic framework from which to work, freeing us up to be creative, which is why most of us are in this industry in the first place.

A Brief Recap

Last week Ayelet and I shared Mack Web’s first-ever co-authored blog post: Hashtags in Social Media Marketing: Ally or Enemy? It’s not so much that we’re both equally awesome (that goes without saying); it’s that we have entered into a fellowship and are in search of the best process for developing successful hashtags for our marketing efforts.


In our last post we discussed how our fellowship came to be, a brief history of the # symbol, and how hashtags can be a friend or foe. That’s all well and good (if we do say so ourselves), but wouldn’t it be even better if we also shared with you our checklist and process for ensuring that our little hashtags are on the straight and narrow instead of on the path to Mordor?

Let the How-To fun begin

And all you list-crossers exclaimed, “Huzzah!” Over the course of developing hashtags, we’ve settled into a fine rhythm that takes us from high-level thinking to the hashtag we want to be with forever (or at least as long as the campaign). We haven’t come up with a fun acronym yet (we’re open to suggestions), but we’ve narrowed it down to these five simple steps:

  1. Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity
  2. Identify: Keywords & Branding
  3. Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity
  4. Filter: Length, Look & Search
  5. Review: Buddy & Team

So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Step 1 – Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity

Start with goals

It’s like a mantra around here. Seriously. Ayelet already talked about it in our post last week. And I don’t think a single one of us will ever be able to delete the sound bite file in our brains of Mack repeating “everything starts with goals.” (We suspect this was implanted without our knowledge during the hiring process, but we lack any evidence to prove it.)

Before you even think about developing a hashtag for you or your client, you must determine why you want a hashtag in the first place and what you hope to accomplish with it. Revisit those high-level business and brand goals you developed for your own business or with your client and make sure your hashtag goals align. If this is still a little fuzzy, we’ll use our own #MackWebLife to, well, unfuzzy things.


The idea behind #MackWebLife was to find a way to share the, well, “life” side of working at Mack Web. But it wasn’t an idea that came out of the blue. Long before we came up with this hashtag, we sat down and decided what we as a company (and a brand) cared about. And as it turns out, the desire to show the human side of our brand is part of our DNA – so much so that we made it one of our brand goals (anything is official once it’s been written with fruit-flavored markers on large post-its).

Driver - human-centric

Before the genesis of #MackWebLife, we’d already been working hard to keep our tone and content as humane (er, human) as possible, but now it was time to take the plunge and show a more day-to-day perspective of what it’s really like at Mack Web.

Group MackWebLife shot

We then discussed what the main vehicle would be for sharing all this Mack Webbiness, and we decided that social would be our platform. Choosing a hashtag to be our sidekick was only natural after that.

As part of this “start with goals” discussion, we considered including “Fort Collins” in the hashtag to have a better chance of getting picked up locally (thinking of more local engagement). But on the other hand, it would exclude our Chicago office or any photos we would take while at conferences. This helped us define our goals even more specifically, realizing we wanted to have a much larger reach and inclusion than just our little city.

Identify KPIs

We know – it may seem like overkill to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for such a small thing as a hashtag, but how else will you measure the success? We decided that our main social thrust would be on Twitter, so here are the two KPIs we developed for our little hashtag:

1. Increase in conversation and applause on Twitter (replies, favorites)
2. Increase in social media referral traffic to our site from Twitter

MackWebLife on Twitter

Determine longevity

Now that you have your hashtag goals and KPIs established, this part should be relatively easy. Based on your goals, what is the expected lifespan of your little hashtag-that-could?

Round calendar

Since we knew we wanted to cover multiple aspects of working at Mack Web, our various office locations, group activities and more, we understood that this was to be a long-term relationship, meaning we weren’t going to limit the usage of this hashtag to a specific (relatively short) period of time. We wanted to be able to use this hashtag starting today and long into the future. We didn’t want the year, season, or anything else to limit how long we could use it. So we signed our marriage license and headed straight for the altar.

But sometimes we’re not looking for something that serious. We want to have some short-term, campaign-only fun and then part amicably. For example, Stephen Colbert implemented the hashtag #CutDownTheAmazon for his tirade against

Stephen Colbert

Or if you search #WorldCup2014, know what you’ll get? That’s right – only soccer news and commentary from this year’s (not last year’s nor the year before that) World Cup. That’s it. Fini. These are short-term, campaign-specific hashtags, and their days are numbered.


Both long- and short-term hashtags have their purpose in this life – you just need to determine your commitment level.

Step 2 – Identify: Keywords & Branding

Review keywords

Keywords are, well, key to a brand’s SEO health, so it makes sense to go back and review them before deciding on a hashtag. It may not be vital to include a keyword, but your hashtag goals will help you figure that out. (See what we did there? We brought it back to goals. We’re so sneaky.) Either way, we should strive to keep SEO considerations at the forefront of our creative minds.

Here’s what you do: make a short list of keywords you might consider for your hashtag. This exercise will generate some seeds for brainstorming, providing that proverbial first brush stroke on that empty canvas. For our line of work, we might consider:

  • content
  • marketing
  • digital
  • social media
  • SEO
  • optimization
  • search

But for #MackWebLife, we opted out of industry keywords since we wanted a focus that was broader than just our industry. Instead we chose a word that encompasses all those things: life. Again, our goals educated our decision.

TIP: Just like Han, go Solo. Don’t lessen the effectiveness and impact of your finely crafted hashtag (and by extension, your campaign) by combining it with a ton of others. #Multiple #hashtags can be a #turnoff and an #annoyance to #fans. (See what we mean?) Unless you’re on Instagram, that is. Yeah, we don’t get it either.

To brand or not to brand

That is indeed the question. Hashtags need to be short and sweet (more on that in a minute), so deciding to place your brand within the # confines is an important step prior to brainstorming. Some considerations on branding are:

  • name of business
  • product name
  • product type
  • brand tone

There are others, but these are the main ones we consider regularly at this stage. Going back to #MackWebLife, we decided to include our full biz name: Mack Web. We nixed “MW” (we didn’t want to be confused with a kind of German vehicle) and decided against just “Mack,” although our fearless leader probably would have loved the extra attention.

Since we don’t really have a product name we’re trying to reference here, we skipped over to product type: our life (it’s quite the intangible product type, but so be it). We wanted to share our collective Mack Web life with our online community, so that was our desired product.

For brand tone, we regularly strive to be concise and clean and snarky, but we only have so much room. Our brainstorming would help us decide which way to go.

Step 3 – Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity

Go to town

Once you’ve reviewed your keywords and brand parameters, get to it. Brainstorm your little heart out. If you need a little something to get the juices flowing, peruse this colorful and innocent-looking brainstormed list of words related to arachnids:

Spider brainstorming

Or to play off our #MackWebLife example, these are some of the options we came up with:


Step 4 – Filter: Length, Look & Search

When you have a long, long list of possibilities, let the culling begin. We know, you love them all. But to quote Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail (and technically The Godfather): “It’s not personal, it’s business.” And we’ll provide a few ways to make the culling go a lot more smoothly.

Check your length

We all do it: we’ll place at the end of a particularly witty tweet a hashtag that goes against everything we’ve written here, such as #mackwebissoawesome.

Even though this may be 100% true, we would never suggest using that on a day-to-day basis. First, no one likes a braggart. Second, this length is ridiculous. If you are using or even considering using a hashtag this long, stop. You’re taking up a lot of valuable real estate to accommodate this craziness, so the content you actually want to share has to play second fiddle. A hashtag that is too long compromises your tweet content and meta descriptions, challenges the patience of your community, and also provides additional opportunities to misspell something.

How does it look?

Don’t forget that we’re dealing with a lot more than just letters here – we’re making word pictures (so to speak). As you narrow down your options, be sure to type them out in a variety of ways to reveal any unwanted visuals:

  • all lowercase (#mackweblife)
  • all uppercase (#MACKWEBLIFE)
  • main words capitalized but the rest lowercase (#MackWebLife)

Ask yourself: Does it look weird? Is it confusing? Does it spell something you’ll regret later?

TIP: Embrace consistency. Use your hashtag the same way each time – uppercase, lowercase, with campaign-specific content, etc. If you need to spend 15 minutes training your team on the parameters you’ve established, then for the love of all that is good and holy, just do it.

Search, baby, search

Make sure your hashtag is pure. What we mean is that in this wide world of evolved humans, it’s entirely possible that someone out there is using your hashtag (sick, we know). And they may not be using it in a way that benefits your brand.

So save yourself some heartache and search hashtags using a search engine as well as your main social channels (namely Twitter). Start by asking these questions:

  • Is anyone else using it? If so, who are they?
  • Is it too common to be useful to your brand?
  • How is it being used? Has it been used in a negative way already?
  • How recently has it been used in another way?
  • Could the hashtag be misleading or misunderstood?
  • Is it too vague or open-ended that it could easily be hijacked?


Now that you’ve put your precious metals through the crucible and only the purest remain, you’re ready for the final step.

Step 5 – Review: Buddy & Team

Find a buddy

Select a team member close to the project or campaign and do an initial review with her of all your brainstormed hashtags. Don’t work in a silo – she may see things you don’t or offer other options to consider.

Let your team chime in

When you and your buddy get down to your favorites, let the rest of your team provide feedback. But don’t just choose your favorite hashtag and only show them that one, nor should you overload them with your entire brain dump. Select the top 5 (at most 10) that made the cut and present those for final consideration.

TIP: Ditch the dead weight. If you’re currently using a hashtag that isn’t delivering (based on your goals and KPIs), you might as well not even use it. Much like the slowest runner in the group during a zombie apocalypse, just abandon that hashtag and let it succumb to the (undead) order of things.

You want more?!

You sick-o. We thought you might. And we admit that we do not know everything (shocking, we know), so here are a few recommended resources we ran across in our travels:

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so share with us your favorite hashtag tips & tricks and even stories – success or otherwise!

Author Rebecca Gilmore

More posts by Rebecca Gilmore

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Great tips guys! I hate to be the grammar nerd here, but in “Let the How-To Fun Begin” you ask for an acronym, when I think you mean a mnemonic device!

    Keep the great tips coming!

    • Rebecca Gilmore says:

      Hi, Jack – We welcome all nerds here. Thanks for keeping us on our toes! Glad you enjoyed the tips, too. It’s been a fun journey as we worked through these steps together.

  • Luissa says:

    I’m new to the social media marketing community, but totally loving the journey so far. Thanks for sharing hashtag strategy because I had NO CLUE how effective they are. I used them at random but not consistently. Hopefully I can begin to use the right hashtags to join communities and share great stuff.

    What are your favorite hashtags? Any recommendations?

    • Rebecca Gilmore says:

      Hi, Luissa – Glad you liked the post! Apart from the hashtags we’ve put together for ourselves and our clients (no one likes a braggart!), I’m partial to Stephen Colbert’s example that I used in the post: #CutDownTheAmazon. It’s specific, easy to remember, sets the right tone for his campaign, and it’s clever (but not so clever as to alienate audiences). I wish I’d thought of it. 🙂 Keep us posted on your hashtag adventures moving forward and let us know if you learn any new tips and tricks!

  • Addy says:

    Great summary, Rebecca. I have been thinking about ways to grow and engage my audience on twitter and this is very helpful! Nowadays we are using ‘#’ in Facebook, tumblr, instagram etc but I am still not sure if using hash tag in Facebook is as effective as twitter. In most cases people don’t know what hash tags are & how to use properly. They end up creating any random tags. Best is to create a list of popular hash tags and paste them according to the tweet or post you are putting on different social networking sites. Really loved your post, because all are simple but great ideas and the readers can easily understand.

    • Rebecca Gilmore says:

      So glad you enjoyed the post! It’s true that there are many ways people are using hashtags on social – effectively and ineffectively. We know that a common practice is to do what you suggest, which is to join forces with a popular hashtag. That is one way to go about it, but we find that for us and our clients, it’s worked much better to be more strategic when we decide on how to utilize hashtags in campaigns. It may take additional effort, but it’s definitely well worth going that extra mile. Thanks!

  • […] Want more tips like this with a how-to process for your team? Then tune in next week for Part II: A How-To for Hashtag Success. […]

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