A Beginner’s Guide to #Hashtags

A Beginner’s Guide to #Hashtags

The hashtag is one of the most defining symbols of the social media era. Alongside the Like button, the ubiquitous hashtag has played a leading role in the ways social media has transformed our world. From the commercial to the political, from the comical to the deadly serious, hashtags have played a role in almost every major social media moment of the last 15 years.

So how do brands wield their power to generate awareness or grow their audience? We’ll take a look at four key elements of hashtags, and how your brand can use them in smart, effective ways.

What is the Point of Hashtags?

This is often the most common question we get regarding hashtags. They are everywhere, and almost everyone uses them…but what do they actually do? In simplest terms, hashtags help group digital conversations around a specific theme. Much like the 90’s chat rooms of the Internet 1.0, hashtags allow like-minded users to share their thoughts and create discussions around a subject that remain tethered to a central hashtag.

While the grouping of posts and comments around a hashtag can still be somewhat haphazard on platforms like Twitter, platforms like Instagram have added the ability for users to “follow” specific hashtags much like they would any other account. So if you’re especially interested in seeing content related to #CleanEating, for example, you could follow that hashtag and receive interesting new posts that feature that hashtag in your timeline next to the brands you follow.

There Are Different Kinds of Hashtags

While the convention is the same for all of them, hashtags can be used for very different purposes. The most basic application is the branded hashtag, where the hashtag is literally just a brand name: #BouvierKelly, #Oatly, etc. This is perhaps the best place for any brand to start in the collection and use of hashtags on their social media platforms. Including your branded hashtag in all your official social media posts helps make sure you’re represented in conversations about your brand.

Community hashtags might relate back to your brand, but are not necessarily the same thing as your branded hashtag. They are often a way to generate and group UGC (user-generated content). These are posts shared by fans of your brand that can then in turn be shared on your own platform or website. The #MyWestElm community, for example, allows fans of the furniture brand to show off their new purchases with the possibility of being featured on West Elm’s digital properties.

Event and holiday hashtags are two more ways conversations find unity on social media platforms. Whether it’s at a conference or tradeshow (such as #NACS2020) or an awareness event for a particular illness or disease (#MSAwarenessWeek), hashtags are a great way to introduce your brand into an ongoing conversation. For tradeshows and similar events, organizers will often promote specific hashtags, and using them may yield additional exposure for your brand in the form of retweets, shares and the like. Holiday hashtags help demonstrate support and solidarity for particular causes or events, allowing you to contribute in a way that is true to your voice and brand. This website is a great resource for keeping track of the many official (and unofficial) “hashtag holidays.”

Open Your Ears with Brand Listening

With the right social media monitoring software (we like Sprout Social), you can use hashtags to monitor ongoing conversations about your brand. Social media users who discuss your brand might not always “tag” you in a conversation, but they might use a branded hashtag—that’s where “brand listening” comes in handy.

Additionally, there might also be conversations about your brand that are not using your specific branded hashtag. They might even be talking about your brand with a misspelling or a common euphemism or slogan for your brand (i.e. “#McD” for McDonald’s). Keeping track of those additional hashtags can be a great way to discover new conversations or address negative sentiment that could damage your reputation. 

How to Choose and Use Your Hashtags

If you’ve got a unique brand name, congratulations: creating your own branded hashtag is as easy as it gets! However, if your brand name is similar to another or might be mistaken for a different company or general word altogether, you might need to get a little creative. #Apple or #Amazon might be able to get away with it because of their sheer market dominance, but chances are you’ll be better off if you can create something that is unique to your brand.

In addition to your branded hashtag(s), it’s good to have a cache of related hashtags at your disposal. These come in handy for your day-to-day posts, which can benefit from the organic boost provided by broader hashtag conversations and threads. The best way to find what’s most relevant to you is to explore other industry leaders, trade publications, influential accounts and the accounts of your audience. The hashtags they’re using are going to be the most relevant for you—if you post a hashtag that no one ever uses, you’ll just be talking with yourself.

As far as how many to use in a given post, that can always depend on the content and/or brand, but here is a general rule of thumb for the major platforms:

  • Facebook: 1-3
  • LinkedIn: 1-3
  • Twitter: 2-4
  • Instagram: 2-4

With Instagram, though, you can utilize a little trick we like to call “hashtag soup,” in which you post a cluster of hashtags either below your main comment (hidden with stacked periods to drop them “below the fold”) or as the first comment on your post. That way, you still reap the benefits of the hashtags and their organic presence without cluttering up your caption.

An example of “hashtag soup”

While there are always best practices for anything, there are not necessarily any fixed rules when it comes to hashtags. The best thing is to experiment and see what works. You won’t always see the same return on the same hashtags, so play around and see what helps drive  more engagement. Get rid of overly broad hashtags that bring in unwanted, untargeted traffic (things like #fun, #goals or #summer) and try to stay specific—especially if you’re in a B2B category. Above all—as with any marketing tactic— try and be as strategic as possible. The more thoughtful your approach, the better your results will be.

Crafting a B2B Social Media Strategy

Crafting a B2B Social Media Strategy

Over the past decade, social media has evolved from a little-understood novelty into a global phenomenon. It might seem, however, to be a space only for consumer-facing brands with flashy products or messages. But with the right strategy, any B2B brand can embrace and excel on social media. It just requires a few basic guiding principles to make sure you get it right.

1. Outline Your Strategy & Goals

What are you trying to accomplish with social media? Set achievable goals with an eye towards using your social media platforms for more specific, more conversion-driven actions down the line. A good place to start is by outlining some KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as:

  • Awareness: Impressions, Reach, Engagement (Likes, Shares, Comments)
  • Consideration: Clicks to your website, mailing list sign-ups, content requests (eBooks, white papers, webinars, etc.)
  • Decision: Sales and other conversions

2. Pick the Right Platform(s)

There are a lot of social media channels to choose from. Pick one platform to start and do a great job with it. You can always add more as you expand capabitlies or want to reach new audiences, but you likely can’t manage multiple platforms effectively at the beginning of your social media journey. Here’s a quick overview of three main platforms to consider:

  • LinkedIn:
    • A natural fit for B2B brands with a robust ad platform
    • Users want to learn about their industry and connect
    • Downside: Smaller user base means more expensive ads
  • Facebook:
    • Traditionally more consumer-facing
    • Laser-like ad platform to target your audience with
    • The world’s biggest platform means low CPMs and CPCs
  • Twitter:
    • Find ongoing industry conversations
    • Connect on trending topics or conferences
    • Invest in a management platform to monitor conversations/hashtags

Share the Right Kind of Content

The third crucial piece in your B2B puzzle is content. Figure out what you can add to the conversation following the 80/20 rule: 80% of your content should be educational and 20% sales-driven.

Educational content can be things like:

  • Blog posts: Short, informative articles that work to address a problem or industry-relevant topic.
  • White papers: Lengthier, more in-depth dives into a topic—from 1,000 words to up to several pages.
  • Webinars: Live webcasts that put you in front of your audience in a personalized, digital medium.
  • Behind-the-scenes: Showcasing everyday looks at the people behind your brand is a great way to convey the human element of your brand.

By creating an intentional strategy with a thoughtful investment of time, budget and creativity, social media can move the needle for B2B brands just as powerfully as it does for consumer-based marketing.

Stay tuned for a deeper dive on building a B2B social media strategy — coming soon!

4 Social Media Trends to Watch Out for in 2020

4 Social Media Trends to Watch Out for in 2020

The new year is upon us, bringing the start of not just the calendar year but a whole new decade. It’s undeniable that the last 10 years brought about changes in the marketing world that we’ll be adapting to for years to come.

It would’ve been hard to imagine back in the year 2010 just how dominant social media would become. Then, most marketers thought it would be a mere flash in the pan—a shiny object to distract from tried-and-true methods.

10 years later, you’d be hard pressed to find someone—marketer or not—who doesn’t have their own opinions about social media. So what lays ahead in 2020 for the world of social media marketing? We’re keeping our eye on 4 trends and predictions, but one thing is for sure: social media ain’t going anywhere.

#1: Say Goodbye to “Vanity” Metrics

There’s no shame in admitting that we’ve chased our fair share of so-called “vanity” metrics over the last 10 years. Checking in to see how many new Facebook Likes a page has or how many people shared a post is a natural way to gauge whether a strategy is working or not. But now as some of the biggest social media platforms are talking about doing away with “Likes” and “Favorites” altogether, it’s high time marketers shifted their focus to more substantial measurements.

While the removal of the Like button is purported to help sever the ties people have built between social media metrics and their own mental health, it also means a great deal for marketers and brands. If your social media strategy isn’t helping to build towards a larger, less engagement-focused tactic (e.g. sales or leads), 2020 might be time to start using social media more as a funnel towards other stages of the Buyer’s Journey.

#2: Take a Less Filtered, More Approachable Tack

Instagram changed the way we present ourselves online—both as people and brands. The 2010’s saw the rise of the “influencer” and a hyper-curated peek into worlds we rarely had access to. But the days of the perfectly cropped coffee cup-and-planner combo or brightly colored “Instagram wall” are numbered, especially as Generation Z embraces less stylized and filtered platforms like TikTok to talk to the world.

While we certainly wouldn’t advocate for an unprofessional, haphazard approach to presenting your brand image on social media, gone are the days where people expect perfection at every turn. It’s critical for brands to appear human and relatable—not impeccably tailored. Talk to your customers and your audience the way you want to be talked to. Being casual and conversational is not the opposite of being professional, and the best brands are striking the right balance of both.

#3: Private is the New Public

If you’ve managed to avoid the whole “social media is now the center of disinformation and privacy invasion” debate over the last few years, we are jealous. To those of us who live in these spaces every day, it’s been a hard conversation to ignore. From political turmoil to data harvesting and beyond, the general public is understandably more wary of social media than they were 10 years ago. So it’s no surprise that many users are flocking to “private” (in quotes because, you know, they’re still owned by very large corporate interests) channels such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

So is the time of “oversharing” coming to an end? Probably not, but there is immense value in being able to speak to your audience one-on-one in private channels. Many brands are even reinvesting in a decidedly “old school” Facebook tactic of using Groups as a way to create private, personal communities on the platform without the burden of worrying about paid and organic reach. Though maintaining a responsive, personal connection through these channels is time consuming, it’s becoming the way people prefer to connect with brands.

#4: It’s Never Too Late for B2B

Though social media platforms have transformed consumer-facing marketing in a very public way, it’s had a marked effect on B2B brands, too. Though a lot of that activity has gone on in more professionally-oriented spaces like LinkedIn, it’s nevertheless been a game changer for B2B marketers. And while many brands not yet participating in this space might think their time has come and gone, we couldn’t disagree more. It’s easy to think of social media broadly as a time-suck or a space for consumer-friendly brands only, but that is simply no longer the case.

Try this on for size: 80% of B2B leads originate on LinkedIn, and 94% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to distribute content. That means if you’re not taking advantage of the platform, your competitors might be. Creating a B2B social media strategy will take time and investment, but with numbers like that, it’s no wonder why so many players have flocked to this space over the last decade.

While it’s impossible to predict what lies ahead for such a broad category as social media, we’ll be keeping an eye on these trendlines. If the previous decade taught us anything, it’s that anything and everything we know about social media will change. But don’t worry—we’ll stay on top of it so you don’t have to.

Defining Your Campaign Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Defining Your Campaign Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

At the start of any campaign, it’s critical to outline what kinds of metrics are most important to establish your definition of “success.” That definition will vary quite a bit, depending on the size, scope and goals of your campaign. But by making a clear distinction as to what your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are, you will have a better ability to judge your campaign’s progress as it is underway and once it’s completed. KPIs tend to differ based on what phase of the “buyer’s journey” your campaign is targeting, so let’s take a look at a few key examples for each of those three phases.

Phase One: Awareness

IMPRESSIONS & CPM
The base unit for any campaign, Impressions measure how many times your campaign creative was seen. Whether that is a Facebook ad or a banner ad, Impressions give you a sense of the overall exposure of your campaign. Higher Impressions are particularly important in an Awareness-phase campaign, where your primary goal is generating interest and knowledge of your brand. The Cost Per 1,000 Impressions (CPM) metric gives you a sense of how expensive or inexpensive those eyeballs were. 

REACH
Related to Impressions is the measurement of Reach, which counts the unique total number of people who saw your creative. Reach will always be a lower number than Impressions, as campaigns often serve your ads to the same people between 2-4 times. An important way of looking at Reach is thinking of how many people were potentially in your audience, and what percentage of them did you actually reach?

VIDEO VIEWS
If your campaign creative features video of any kind, total Video Views is another important metric for the Awareness phase. Much like Impressions, they are a measure of how many times your videos were seen. In addition to Video Views, statistics like Average Percentage Watched or Total 100% Completions (the names for these metrics might vary from platform-to-platform) are good ones to consider, too.

ENGAGEMENT
If you’re running any kind of campaign with a social media component, Engagement is a great KPI to measure. That can be broken out any number of ways, including post Likes, Shares and Comments, as well as the overall sentiment of the interactions (positive, negative, indifferent). These will give you a sense of what the overall interest-level of your campaign was, with higher engagement metrics usually indicating relevant, enticing ad content and messaging. 

Phase Two: Consideration

CLICKS & CLICK-THROUGH-RATE
Here, you’re looking at how many people actually clicked your ad once it appeared in their social media timeline or wherever your ads are being served. This gives you an idea of how compelling your creative messaging and visuals are, and which versions of your creative perhaps resonated best with your audience. (Side note: It’s always a good idea to run a few variations of creative in any digital campaign to test your messaging).

The Click-Through-Rate (CTR) is a ratio of total Impressions to total Clicks. This is good to keep an eye on when comparing creatives across different campaigns, as a campaign that has lower Impressions, but a better Click-Through-Rate might actually have more valuable messaging and visuals than a campaign with more impressions and more clicks but a lower CTR. There are also often many benchmarks for various industries with which you can measure your CTR to see how you stack up against other advertisers in your space.

LANDING PAGE VIEWS
One step beyond Clicks is Landing Page Views, which is somewhat of a Facebook-specific metric, but it can usually be calculated from other platforms, too. This looks at people who clicked your ads and then waited until the full landing page loaded after the fact. It’s a better measure than Clicks if you can get it, because it addresses more the strength of your landing page, as well as removing those accidental clicks that may have occurred during the campaign (especially if your campaign features a lot of mobile placements).

BOUNCE RATE
This measures the percentage of people who visited a specific landing page and left without interacting with the page. Essentially, it means they came, they saw, they left. Much like Landing Page Views, it can indicate how well-designed your Landing Page is. Average bounce rate benchmarks are between 40%-60%, so if you’re seeing results higher than that, it may be worth evaluating your Landing Page for potential drop-off points like load-time, irrelevant content, etc.

Phase Three: Decision

CONVERSIONS
This is where some of the most relevant, impactful KPIs come into play. Whether you’re looking at website purchases, webinar sign-ups, mailing list subscribers or any other “conversion” event, those should be the focus of your Decision-phase campaign. Now, many times you might track Conversions within an Awareness or Consideration campaign, but those should not necessarily be your primary focus if you are targeting an audience that is not yet in the decision-making phase of their buyer’s journey.

Download our KPIs infographic below:

The 5 Pillars of a Successful Digital Ecosystem

The 5 Pillars of a Successful Digital Ecosystem

The breakneck growth of digital technology over the past two decades has forever changed the marketing and advertising world. And while many traditional tactics like out-of-home advertising and print publications still have a viable place for many clients, there’s no denying that very few brands can get away without having a stable digital presence.

So let’s take a look at the 4 key pillars of what we’re calling your “digital ecosystem.” These individual elements are often treated as related yet separate tactics, occasionally overlapping but often being thought of as distinct from one another. We believe that they must be taken holistically to be truly successful, and we’ll tell you why.

1. Your Website

This is ground zero for all your digital activity. Without a robust website, there is almost no justification for investment in other digital tactics (email, social media, etc.). That’s because you need to have an owned-and-operated platform from which to do things like sell products, convey key brand messages and collect information from interested customers. You can do many of those things on social media platforms or third party e-Commerce websites, but you will always be “renting” those distribution channels from other companies.

2. Content

Outside of the baseline information that makes up your website, you’ll want to invest in an ongoing content strategy as part of any digital efforts. This is particularly important for any B2B efforts, as without a physical consumer product to sell, content will be one of the ways you “sell” your brand and position yourself as a trustworthy, instructive partner for your customer. Content can run the gamut from as simple as a weekly blog post on industry news to in-depth instructional videos and tutorials. Some pieces of content will be easier and more affordable to produce regularly, while others you’ll want to plan for as part of a bigger strategy. Content will also help improve your SEO rankings, by populating your website with content that features your target keywords.

3. Email Campaigns

One of the oldest forms of digital communication has had a love-hate relationship with marketers over the years. With the rise of spam and less sophisticated marketing campaigns, it fell out of favor, but as social media is now being scrutinized more closely than ever, marketers are falling in love with email again. For starters, email campaigns still allow for direct, personalized communication with your audience. And unlike social media — which can also allow for those kinds of relationships — you will always “own” your email list.

4. Social Media

To use the parlance of the largest social media platform on the planet, our relationship status with this marketing tactic is “Complicated.” What was once dismissed as a passing fad has grown into a cultural phenomenon. It went from widely derided to widely adopted — and we’re starting to come full circle again. But that doesn’t mean social media shouldn’t still be a part of your digital ecosystem. In fact, the platforms themselves remain as powerful as ever, you just have to reorient how you’re thinking about them.

5. PPC: Pay-Per-Click Advertising

The final puzzle piece in your digital ecosystem is PPC advertising. As the paid complement to SEO, this tactic primarily revolves around Google Ads. Here’s how you’ll work to be the first result when someone searches for keywords or phrases related to your brand. Depending on how specific or broad your services or products are, this will be a very obtainable goal or one you’ll have to work very hard at.

So How Does This All Work?

Think of these five pillars as a kind of virtuous cycle. Each tactic feeds the other, working in harmony to help you meet your goals. For example, you can have a Facebook campaign that drives new visitors to your website, where you then offer them a free eBook download, who you later target on Google Ads with a more hands-on piece of content. Or, you can use an email campaign to drive webinar signups, and then send reminder Facebook ads to everyone who converted on your website. Whatever you do, make sure you take your campaign into consideration holistically, not just tactically.

In the process of writing this blog post, we realized we had a lot more to say about building a successful “digital ecosystem.” Stay tuned for a forthcoming Quick Look white paper that features more details, tips and insights. If you want to learn more in the meantime, simply give us a shout below.

When Social Media & Public Relations Collide: Reputation Management

When Social Media & Public Relations Collide: Reputation Management

There’s no denying social media’s vital role in most brands’ marketing strategies. When used effectively, it can be a valuable tactic to develop a company’s voice, grow awareness for their products and interact with customers. If you’ve already laid the groundwork for a “reputation management” PR program, then social media could provide a huge boost to those efforts. But how?

Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse

As we discussed in this post, a solid public relations strategy is vital to any brand’s well-being. How else are you going to shine a light on your company’s latest achievement or put out the fire that might threaten to harm the positive sentiment that took you years to build?

Having a course of action in place to capitalize on good news or stop the bleeding during a crisis can only benefit you in the long-run. But that’s not all that goes into forging your overall brand reputation. Those bigger moments might feel like the only defining characteristics, but the daily opinions and perceptions surrounding your company help form a more complete picture of your brand reputation.

So how can you be sure that you’re actively keeping your finger on the pulse of your community and remaining aware of both the good and the bad things being said about your brand?

Two words: Social media.

Including social media in your PR strategy is crucial to keeping your tactics up-to-date. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram provide real-time insights into how people actually feel about your brand.

Because of the widespread adoption of social media, every aspect of your brand has the opportunity to be talked about by a wide audience and can easily become part of your story or reputation. Whether it’s used as a way to offer kudos for the charitable event your company orchestrated, or as a way to make some noise about a negative customer service experience, social media doesn’t discriminate. That’s why it’s vital to take advantage of the positives and quickly squash the negatives.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Today’s social media landscape is one of endless opinions. Consumers are no longer hesitant to voice their grievances (or show their support) on their platform of choice. For example, when a family in Ohio found out that their dog, Cody, had cancer and only a few months to live, they immediately decided to treat him to a cheeseburger from Burger King for each of his remaining days. When the employees at their Burger King found out, they received approval from their manager to gift those cheeseburgers to Cody while he was still alive. The family’s decision to broadcast their generosity over Twitter lead to 976 retweets and 3,988 likes.

Similarly, brand problems can rise from a simple tweet—even for the most social savvy. In 2017, Wendy’s was riding high on a wave of social media glory, roasting naysayers and hecklers left and right, much to the delight of the general public. But what happened next shows just how quickly that positive brand sentiment can evaporate.

In response to a tweet asking if they had any memes to share, they tweeted a meme of “Pepe the Frog” dressed up as Wendy herself. While Pepe initially began life as an innocuous comic strip character, his association with the so-called “Alt Right” movement led to his being classified as an anti-Semitic hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.

How the shrewd social media managers at Wendy’s managed to misread Pepe’s current associations is puzzling, but regardless of the original post’s intention, Twitter seized on this gaffe quickly and loudly. In order to try and manage their reputation, Wendy’s immediately did some damage control (though not without some more missteps…”meems”?):

Wendy's Pepe the Frog

Listen & React

The first step in trying to prevent or solve these problems is by listening to your social media channels to see what the general conversation is. Keeping an ear to the ground gives you a chance to keep an eye out for mentions of your brand, but it can also tell you what your competitors are doing right (or wrong) and can help you be one step ahead of the game.

So once you’re listening, what comes next? It’s great to monitor channels so that you know what’s going on, but the only way to build real relationships is to actually respond and join those conversations.

A successful brand knows that it’s vital to be involved with any conversation surrounding your brand. Monitoring social media means that you’re checking your mentions and DMs or keeping track of a specific hashtag or phrase related to your company. If the moment feels right to offer your insights or commentary, it’s important to strike while the iron is hot. But also make sure you read the room: jumping in to a conversation uninvited—especially if you’re taking a sales-heavy angle—could backfire magnificently.

By monitoring your company’s social media platforms, you’ll be able to quickly see and respond to any questions, compliments or complaints that may arise. Using a service like Sprout Social or Hootsuite can help keep all those mentions, comments and more in one place, meaning you don’t have to jump around from platform-to-platform.

A service like Sprout Social can help you keep track of your mentions and conversations across platforms.

As much as your social media channels can act as a way for customers to voice compliments and concerns, they also function as a modern-day customer service avenue. Brands can no longer afford to ignore attempts by customers to track down the answers to questions or service requests over social media. While we sympathize with the extra effort required to keep up with those demands, it may do your brand more harm than you’re aware of to ignore them.

Social media can provide your brand endless opportunities to grow your relationship with your audience and tell your own story. It’s time to stop shying away from the massive influence that social media holds over a brand’s reputation and start using it to your advantage.

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