Hashtags, or those strange little “pound signs” to some of you, are popping up across cyberspace.
The phenomenon originated on Twitter, where the hashtag symbol allows users to click on the highlighted word or term and instantly pull up all tweets with the same hashtag. Now the symbols are so popular you’ve no doubt seen them pop up in your Facebook or LinkedIn feeds as well.
But Twitter is where a hashtag’s power lies and where firms should concentrate their use as part of a social media marketing strategy.
The practice increases the odds Twitter users will find your tweets and information. Milwaukee lawyer Nathan DeLadurantey, for example, said he occasionally tags his tweets with “#bankruptcy.” When a follower clicks on the hashtag, he or she can see all of DeLadurantey’s recent Tweets about bankruptcy, as well as opting to see anyone else’s current Tweets containing “#bankruptcy.”
That means people who don’t regularly follow you might be introduced to you and your Tweets because you used a hashtag — maximizing the free marketing Twitter offers.
In addition to “#bankruptcy,” DeLadurantey said he has used hashtags such as “#chapter7” and “#businessesthatfail.” In general, he said, the more specific you can be on the verbiage after the hashtag, the better.
Some social media devotees use platforms such as TweetDeck or HootSuite to contemporaneously post updates to Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Facebook, which is why hashtags often appear outside the Twitter sphere. Though hashtags don’t pull up any searches on Facebook yet, DeLadurantey said, people who use them there are hoping Facebook eventually will add that search capability.
For now the central reason to hashtag, DeLadurantey said, is to maximize the increasing popularity of Twitter as an online information source. Twitter users are starting using the site’s search option, rather than Google or other search engines, and you want to be sure people find your firm and your information in those searches.
Though Google still gets about 88 billion searches per month, Twitter sees 19 billion per month – more than Yahoo and Bing combined, which see 9 billion and 4 billion per month, respectively.
“When I saw the numbers a few months back I was astounded at how many people are using Twitter as a Google replacement,” DeLadurantey said.
Hashtags also are a great way to appear in-the-know, said Madison lawyer Elizabeth Russell.
“I want people to say ‘I didn’t know about that,’” she said, “and then remember that I’m the one who made it available to them.”
When the Federal Trade Commission released new regulations in the fall guiding the claims advertisers can make about the environmentally friendly nature of their products, Russell, a trademark lawyer, took the opportunity to send out a tweet with the hashtag #GreenGuides. The tweet increased her chances that people searching for information on the new regulations would come across her tweet and therefore recognize her as a resource for information.
Milwaukee lawyer Joshua Uller also uses hashtags, but he’s less enthusiastic about them.
Though using hashtags has successfully driven people to his two blogs, Uller said, they are just a part of his marketing plan.
“Have they improved business? Probably not – not identifiably, anyway,” he said. “Hashtags are a good accessory to build business. But they’ll never be the engine that drives a lawyer’s business.”
Uller said he’s surprised, however, how infrequently lawyers use Twitter as a free marketing tool.
“Twitter is a relatively untapped resource for lawyers,” he said. “I think most lawyers are sort of stuck in the traditional ways of doing things. The amount of money some of my colleagues spend on advertising in the Yellow Pages is just startling.”
Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and Wisconsin Law Journal’s editor-at-large. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.