Get Up Off Of Your Hash(tag) / by Mary Jennings

Note: This post is to complement my informal discussion with my local business networking group, Wednesday, June 26, 2013.  It's a group of wonderful friends and business owners.  I am delighted to share what I know about the subject of hashtags. #

Let me start off saying that I am not a Digital Ninja or any sort of #Professional #Poundsign #Prophetess.  I am simply a artist/business woman who is interested in serving my customers and bringing them the best product I am able to deliver.  I do my best to keep up with the latest in hip hyperspace.  However, I will confess that just a few months ago I was anxiously visiting my mailbox everyday checking to see if the ebooks that I ordered had come in yet.  I found myself getting annoyed at their delay in arrival and the poor customer service of the provider. ..... You did hear me say that they were eBOOKs, right.  In a out-dated data daze I was checking the wrong mailbox.  They were sitting pretty in my electronic mailbox, waiting for me to download and dive into.

The reason I am presenting this description in hashtags in plain english is to help us all get out of our digital daze.  Certain things, hashtags being one, are part and parcel of the digital age.  You need to know how to use them.

We know all about tools in a toolbox, well hashtags (#) are a tool; like the kind you would find in a toolbox.  We can all agree that tools are very helpful.  Some know how to use every tool in the box.  Some only know how to use the key essential tools and some simply hire someone to use the tools for them.  It would be careless to avoid know what tools are out there and what they are capable of achieving even when you are not the one using them in the end.  It helps to be well-rounded.

I am here to brief you on the multi-purpose tool, the hashtag in this blog.  As a matter of fact, I will be making a presentation to my local business networking group on this topic.  As a business owner, it’s particularly challenging to keep track of all the latest and greatest ways to reach your customers.  I will do my best to make this short and simple.

Dear Business Owner: 

Do you want customers?

Do you want to grow in your field?

Do you want to check on you competition?

Do you want people to know how great you are?

Do you want to correct your message to people?

Do you want quick results?

Do you want to connect with your customers and colleagues?

Do you want to expand your territory?

Do you want support?

Do you want your event promoted?

Do you want to be hip at all to what is part and parcel of digital culture?

Then pay attention..

Hashtag Origin:

We really don’t need to know, but you can equate a hashtag (#) to a these terms:

group, topic or channel.  They look like this: #art #hashtag #DC #businessnetworking #bringbacklawandorder #nothashtagbutpoundsign.  You might also hear them paralleled with “trending topic” or “mini-meme”.

In the end, all of this is designed to bring people together and make information easier to find.  Hashtags now are compatible with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to name a few.  It’s close to what a tag is in the blogging world.  Hashtags are a great tool, but all tools need to come with a tool safety manual.

Safety First (you don’t want to lose a finger with this tool): 

Using hashtags is fairly simple and risk-free for the user, but they do require some creative thought and risk analysis before putting out there is cyberspace.  There are some hashtag bullies out there.  They are capable of putting together a “bashtag”.  Comedians love the creative use of hashtags that allow them to give emphasis or punchline to their otherwise average message.

Example: The (former) Food Network star, Paula Dean's career has been destroyed by the trending topic #PaulaDeanBestDishes where food and racism were combined to make for a terrible, unmarketable image.  The people’s voices were heard.

Similarly, hashtags like #OccupyWallStreet and #LibyaFeb17 have been used for political purposes to organize groups for promotion and discussion.

Branded hashtags can gain enough interest if they are clever and are free from the potential of backfiring on the beneficiary.  You also need to keep in mind some of the mistakes people make when developing a presence online and avoid those.  One of the biggest mistakes is to leave your profile picture blank or as an egg (twitter).  People will never trust a blank photo.

Benefits of Using Hashtags:

You will experience better ways to search for conversations that matter to you.  Using hashtags on Twitter and now, Facebook will allow you to locate and participate in a real-time networking environment with a focus of others that are in your field.

You can organize your own chat by simply typing your topic with a hashtag like #art, #HVAC and/or #finance.  Doing research is now made easier with hashtags.  You are able to even locate your competition and see what their customers might be saying about them.  You also have an opportunity to contribute to that conversation when you find the right time and content.

One of the best feelings is the feeling of locating your “tribe” online.  It doesn’t have to be a tribe of people in the same region, social, ethic, or religious background.  It can be simply about the direction and the interest common to you that has been identified with a hashtag.

The fact that the potential for hashtags is great and the cost is nothing should be all of the benefit you need to know.

Life without hashtags (from the customer's point of view): 

Your customers might be saying or asking:

“I will lose a piece of paper, but I will never lose my internet service.”  Your marketing is available at anytime and at any hour.

“Let me Google this person and see what I find.”  The more you work on your online presence the easier you will be able to find when you are looked up by your customer.

“Does this person really know what they’re doing?”  The more you write and the more you contribute to conversations, the easier it will be for a customer to see your credibility.

“Are all these testimonials real?”  The testimonials on websites are very nice, but the good word that is not from a controlled source is amazing.

Typical criticisms by the business owner/hashtag creator:

I don’t have time for this.

It’s free, how good can it be?

I get consumed by it and get nothing else done.

All of my customers don’t even use internet, why would I bother.

Who cares?

To hashtag or not to hashtag, that is the question.  It’s completely up to you, but at least, now you know what the heck they’re all about. #enjoy