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In 2010, the word "hashtag" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and four years later, the Scrabble Dictionary followed suit, accepting the word as a valid combination of tiles. There's no question that hashtags, once your phone's pound sign, have become a prominent part of popular culture.

In our last post, we looked at how to find hashtags for social selling. Today, we're going to ask whether we should even use hashtags. If so, when should we use them?

Let's first take a look at the case for using them and go over a few best practices. Then, we'll dive into the case against using them. Sound good?

Use Hashtags to Join Conversations

Think of a hashtag as a way of organizing conversations on social media. Every minute, Twitter users send nearly 350,000 tweets. By using a hashtag, you make it possible for other users to find your tweets, and you are inviting them to engage with the ideas in your tweets.

If you are just starting out with social selling, you most likely do not have a large Twitter following. By using hashtags and responding to tweets that use appropriate tags, you can attract followers, add value, and build relationships with potential customers.

Remember that the more specific you can get with a hashtag, the more targeted your conversation will be. #Business will be much broader (and noisier) than #Sales, which is much broader (and noisier) than #SocialSelling.

Not Every Tweet Needs a Hashtag

Hashtags make your tweets discoverable to a wide audience. The truth is, not everything you type deserves to be discovered. If your tweet, post or comment won't add substance to the wider conversation, you should consider ditching the hashtag. For example, a Tweet that says, "I love #SocialSelling" isn't adding a lot to the conversation about social selling. (Though, we at Trapit are happy you feel that way!)
 

During One-on-One Conversations, Drop the Hashtag

When you tweet using hashtags, other Twitter users will respond from time to time, and you'll want to respond to them. As you engage in one-on-one conversations, don't feel like you need to use the hashtag. Like we said above, hashtags are great for starting conversations. But when you're already in a conversation, you don't need to continue to use the hashtag.

In the example below, notice how Bill uses a hashtag for his tweet, but when Kim responds, she doesn't use the hashtag:

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Limit the Number of Hashtags

Maybe you're used to Instagram, where users flood their posts with pound signs, so you feel the need to flood your tweets with hashtags. Or maybe you want to be as discoverable as possible, so you're determined to use as many hashtags as possible.

Stop doing that.

There are a couple problems with your hashtag-happy strategy. First, using too many pound signs affects the readability of your post. We skim on social media, and it's hard to parse hashtags when you're skimming.

Second, if you have more hashtags than words, that's a violation of the unwritten rules of Twitter etiquette. Why? The point of using a hashtag is to add substance to a conversation. If you have more hashtags than words, chances are that you're not adding anything of value.

In fact, research shows that you shouldn't go overboard with hashtags. Check out the research from TrackMaven, which found that tweets with one hashtag generated the most engagement:

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In other words, keep it simple.

The Argument for Authenticity

Above, we looked at the case for using hashtags and some best practices surrounding the octothorpe. However, some social media experts are against the use of hashtags. To them, using hashtags seems contrived.

Why's that? Well, for starters, Twitter is supposed to be a place for authentic conversation. To that end, some users believe that Twitter conversations should imitate the way we speak in real life. That's why the hashtag irks them so much. Few people say things like "hashtag B2B" in real life. So, why would you clog up your tweets with a bunch of pound signs?

Other social media experts are concerned about readability. As we said above, we skim on social media, and when you're faced with a series of hashtags, it's much harder to read your tweets.

Finally, there are the cynics. They question the motives of those who use hashtags. They don't believe that hashtag users are trying to start conversations. Instead, the cynics believe that pound signs are being used to broadcast messages to as many people as possible and gain as many followers as possible. Social media is not supposed to be self-serving, they argue. It's about engaging in conversations and adding value to those conversations. So, to a cynic's mind, using a hashtag is a clear violation of the unwritten rules of Twitter etiquette.

Hmm… The detractors raise valid concerns, don't they? So, what's a social seller supposed to do?

Perhaps your best bet is to take a pragmatic approach. If you're new to Twitter, you probably have a handful of followers, and you're looking to build a community. Unless you use hashtags, people won't find you and engage with you. In other words, you need hashtags – from time to time.

Strive for balance. Aim to send a mixture of hashtagged and non-hashtagged tweets, reserving your octothorpes for when you want to add value to a subject that Twitter is discussing.

Good luck tweeting!

Want more social selling tips? Check out our cheat sheet for social sellers.

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Posted by Mark Bajus

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