Suganya Manivannan guides marketers on the use of social search in marketing

It’s 2017 and social media marketing is no longer a new phenomenon in the eyes of marketing professionals. For over a decade, big brands and start-ups alike have been cashing in on social media outreach, to promote their products and services.

While paid search as an advertising model delivers a tangible return on investment, in today’s world of digital media, it is important to recognise that combining paid search and social media is a more powerful marketing tool.

With the growing demand to use social media to create impactful strategies and campaigns, the power of social search or hashtags is more apparent than ever. As a significant means to reach potential customers or create viral campaigns, hashtags help social media users and businesses flag certain keywords and phrases to make them easily searchable in the vast world of social networks.

Companies can choose to either piggyback on popular and trending hashtags or create their own. For example, if you’re promoting a new makeup brand that is attempting to launch in the market, using hashtags that are popular among makeup artists will ensure that it is noticed by people who are likely to use the product. Alternatively, many conferences and events create their own hashtags to ensure that people talk about the event, along with pictures and content that are easily searchable in the social network.

So how do we decide which hashtags to use?

Etiquette dictates that proper hashtag usage must be relevant to the content being posted. It may be tempting to use currently trending hashtags to reach a wider audience but using irrelevant hashtags will make your audience irrelevant as well.

In social media marketing, there isn’t always power in numbers. Often, reaching 1,000 relevant users can yield much higher returns than accessing 10,000 irrelevant users.

To discover hashtags that are both relevant to your content as well as popular, do a quick search of other brands that are popular in your sector or industry to find what hashtags are working. You can also use universally popular hashtags such as #TBT, #potd, #instagram and #igers as inspiration for your content strategy. It also helps to hashtag the location where your business is based or use generic topics such as #marketing.

Hashtags are a great way to seek inspiration for your social media content calendar as well. By staying updated on current events and occasions, popular movies, TV programmes and trending affairs, you will be able to create content that is relevant to your brand in a way that is popular among target consumers.

Social media bloggers and influencers are a good example of using an almost-zero budget and capitalising on trending hashtags to gain popularity. But there’s a fine line between using and abusing hashtags. While several social networks restrict the number of hashtags that can be used per post, many brands still misuse hashtags resulting in the loss of potential reach and business.

Catering hashtags to specific social networks is one of the ways you can ensure that you use them correctly.

Although the fundamental use of hashtags – content tagging and discovery – is the same across all social networking channels, their usage differs accordingly. What is popular on Instagram may not be trending on Twitter and vice versa. So invest time in researching what’s working on a particular network.

Similarly, using your brand as a hashtag may seem like an obvious choice – after all, you do want your brand name to be easily discoverable on social networks. However, this may not always be the smartest choice. Instead, creating a unique hashtag that represents your brand and for what it stands may create an impact that lasts longer.

For example, a tourism website for a particular city may be tempted to use the city’s name as the hashtag but this will most likely result in the posts becoming lost among the hundreds of other businesses that would be fighting for social media fame. Instead, creating a unique hashtag such as #DiscoverColombo specifies what the business does and creates a long-term plan.

Ensure that your hashtag is short and sweet. Very long hashtags deter other users from typing it out and thus decreases the chances of your hashtag becoming a trend. And don’t be too clever with your hashtag – remember, the primary purpose of a hashtag is to make things easier to find and have the target audience engage with you. Complicating the process will result in a no-win situation for both your business and the end consumer.

Social search is here to make your experience as a marketing professional easier. So engage with it by posting content that will make the right impression on the wide reach of social media audiences.