Twitter hashtags are bedeviling little creatures. They never seem to work the way you want them to. Especially if you’re McDonalds. You may have tried to use them, yourself, with the only real result being that you have fewer characters in your tweet to say anything useful. And yet you see them sprinkled over everything on Twitter and used in many different ways.
So, what’s the deal? Should you use hashtags on Twitter?
I’ll spare you the dramatic build-up: the short answer is yes.
The longer answer is: but probably not how you’re thinking.
Is there a Doctor in the house?
If you have tried to use hastags, you probably used general terms related to your industry. If you’re a CPA, maybe you tried #accounting or #taxes. If you’re a writer, maybe you tried #writing.
Before I get into what showed up in your search, let’s take a look at a few other online niches:
If you’re a developer, what would you use for a hashtag? What if C# (pronounced C-sharp)is your main language? Then your hashtag would look like this: #C#, which is kind of awkward (and gave me an error in HootSuite, but not Twitter for the web). You’d have to try #Csharp, perhaps. But also, what else would you use hashtags for? There are programming practices and methods, like scrum, which could be #scrum as a hashtag.
What if you’re an artist or studio professional? If you paint, should you use #painting? Or be more specific, like, say, #watercolor?
If you’re a life coach you could try #lifecoach and there are a hundred flavors of “coach” online.
If you only tried using hashtags but never did a search on them, you’re just shooting in the dark. And the targets in that darkened room aren’t who you think. Do a search on Twitter for your online niche’s hashtags, and you’ll realize something:
Your customers aren’t using those hashtags, the other people in your niche are.
So much for that!
Twitter hashtags don’t really reach your customers in the way you might have thought. A person who needs an accountant isn’t going to go on Twitter and search for #accounting. A person who wants to buy art isn’t going to search on Twitter for #painting (which is too bad, because she’d find plenty of ‘em).
These hashtags are being used by others in your niche who are also marketing themselves through social media, but they don’t know something that you now know: those hashtags aren’t reaching customers. If I were hiring for a company I might search on hashtags as a way to find and recruit skilled people, but customers? Nope.
Who Doesn’t Use Hashtags?
Here’s an interesting question to ponder: who doesn’t use hashtags? Answer: the leaders in a niche. The wannabes who are desperate for any scrap of traffic or engagement are using niche hashtags, but not the leaders in the niche. This doesn’t mean that if you don’t use them, either, that you’ll become a leader in your niche. What it means is that there’s a different outlook and approach taken by the leaders vs. the wannabes.
Back to the original question: should you or shouldn’t you?
For the most part, I’m gonna say no if you want to be seen by customers. If you want to be seen by peers, that’s a different story. In that case, the real answer is going to be specific to the niche and the hashtag. For example, if I was an artist, having searches saved in my Twitter stream on HootSuite (affiliate link) for hashtags like #painting and #watercolor would be a great way for me to see work by other artists. And these other artists might be people I’d like to follow and get to know.
The people who tend to use hashtags (in a serious, unironic way) are either marketing themselves or operating in technically savvy circles where hashtags are normal. That’s not most people.
You would be remiss if you didn’t follow the “big” hashtags for your online niche. Let me show you how to do that.
How to follow a Twitter hashtag search
For Twitter on the web, click on the little gearwheel icon at the top right of the search results page as in the picture below:
For HootSuite, do your search in the search box at the top right of the window and then click on the “Save as Stream” button at the bottom right of the little search results pane that pops up, as in the picture below:
Try a few hashtags for your niche and keep an eye on them for a week or so. See if there’s anything valuable in those streams: people to follow or links to share.
Have you been using hashtags?
Have you had any success with hashtags yourself? Or has it been shots in the dark for you?