Brands are embracing the use of hashtags -- those # pound signs you see in front of words or phrases throughout social media.
More than half of this year's Super Bowl ads contained hashtags, setting a record, according to Marketing Land.
So if your business isn't using them yet in your social marketing efforts, you may want to reconsider, say experts.
"Hashtags are going to help you increase your reach," explains Andrea Vahl, a Boulder, Colo.-based social media consultant and co-author of "Facebook Marketing All-in-One For Dummies" (For Dummies; $34.99).
VISIBILITY. Hashtags make your content searchable, she notes. For instance, if you include the hashtag #smallbiz within a post and someone is searching for those keywords within a social media platform, your post will appear along with any other conversations that also include those keywords, she explains. Just remember there are no spaces in a hashtag between the words, she says.
BREVITY. They can be any length, but typically the shorter the better, says Sida Li, senior director of social media at fishbat, a Bohemia-based digital marketing firm. Generally, the longer the hashtag, the harder it can be for people to remember, he notes.
COMPARISON. When trying to determine your hashtag strategy, it pays to see what other brands are using. If you want to create a unique hashtag, search to see no one else is using it, says Li. Conversely, if you want your message tied into larger conversations, then see what popular terms are being utilized within existing hashtags, he adds.
ALIGNMENT. It helps to check how the hashtags are being used, to make sure conversations they are tied to are positive and align with your brand, says Li.
Tagboard.com lets you track hashtags across various platforms, says Vahl. Whatever hashtag you use, make sure it's relevant to your topic or brand, she notes. Don't just use them for the sake of using them.
TIMING. "We use hashtags for clients when appropriate," notes Justin Maas, senior vice president of client relations at fishbat. For example, the day of the Oscars, client Estelle's Dressy Dresses of Farmingdale posted some of its red carpet looks on its Facebook page with the hashtag #Oscars, asking followers which celebrity dress they were excited to see.
They've also used other popular hashtags such as #prom with some of their posts and dress images, says Yolanda Rosales, senior buyer at Estelle's.
"People on social media look for it more and more," notes Michael Nolan, office manager at Estelle's.
Hilary Topper, president of Melville-based HJMT Public Relations Inc. and co-president of the Social Media Association, a networking and educational organization, says she uses hashtags in about 80 percent of the posts she puts up daily across her multiple social media platforms. She's found them to be quite effective.
PROMOTION. "It helps people find us," says Topper, who used hashtags to promote her Google Glass reality show, "Glasslandia," garnering 50 million impressions (the estimated number of post views, write-ups, hashtag retweets, etc., related to Glasslandia). "People are reaching out to us from all over the world."
To see what works and what doesn't you can use tools such as keyhole.co and socialmention .com to track impressions, says Topper.
"You can make up any hashtag you want," adds Vahl, noting they can be used for multiple purposes ranging from increasing brand awareness to search engine optimization.
Many companies use them to promote contests or sweepstakes. For instance, she says, in an Esurance Twitter campaign following the Super Bowl, people who tweeted #EsuranceSave30 were entered to win $1.5 million. "It went viral," she says.