Hashtags would seem like they aren’t terribly complex, but what if you don’t know what a Hashtag is or have never setup a business strategy using one? This guide covers event hashtags and why it makes sense to define a logical structure for your audiences to engage with you on.
What is a Hashtag?
Hashtags are words that have the hash symbol (“#”) attached to them. This highlights the #hashtag as an important part of the message. In a more traditional application you use Hashtags to note #classifications #categories and #similar topics. In many cases this allows you to talk about a brand or product and define what category the conversation should be in.
An example: I’m attending the Northwest Garden Show #RealEstate #Seattle
By using #realestate and #seattle as a hashtag, anyone who is also engaged in conversations about real estate or Seattle will find out about the Northwest Garden Show.
Why would I use event hashtags?
One of the primary reasons is that you need to manage your brand. If you don’t create an event hashtag for yourself, it is only a matter of time before your attendees create one for you. You run the risk of having a branded event hashtag that works with your overall theme such as #myevent2011 versus a community generated one like #nyc11doctors
A second reason is that you will most likely want to promote, monitor, engage, and analyze the people talking about your event online (I’ll talk about each of these later in this article.)
How can I drive tactical business results with event hashtags?
This is a core question that can drive a lot of your strategic thinking.
Depending on the event size you may have a single event hashtag or dozens of smaller topic hashtags.
Some examples for having multiple hashtags
Speaker & Panels
each topic, session, or track a different hashtag to help like-minded people have engaging conversations on specific topics.
Sponsor & Vendor
variations that include booth numbers or promotional codes (possibly for tracking sweepstakes or giveaways)
Customer Service or Emergency
Keep your main event hashtag conversation ‘clean’ by giving a direct way to get service and assistance.
How do I create value with event hashtags?
This requires that you think about the different audiences involved in your event. Each audience niche in your event could have a different type of value placed in using hashtags appropriately. The overall value is that you can nurture different conversations and keep a clean signal for specific topics. In many cases a general event hashtag can become contaminated with repeat statements like “I’m having fun at the #conference” or “great presentation at the #conference”
By categorizing hashtags for specific groups, you can create special areas of opportunity for:
- Stage crew
- Foreign languages
How do I get people to use my event hashtags?
One word: PROMOTION
You have to think about your event hashtags just like you would a telephone number.
Your online information should be listed within all of your materials. This should include your event flyers, vendor guide, attendee books, business cards, show signage, etc, etc.
You should also provide a method to get simple instructions that help attendees understand the value and usefulness of using the right event hashtags. This information can be communicated with a social media guide (preferably a printed flyer), through a web page with up to date information, and a mobile app (if you have one.)
Combining event hashtags with event interaction
If your event has any form of digital signage, various technologies exist for presenting the conversation on a screen.
Event hashtags can allows audiences to engage with themselves, people presenting information, and interested sponsors.
Check out options for displaying your information on plasma screens, jumbotrons, laptop computers, personal tablets, smartphones, and projectors.
STEP 1 – choose your reason.
It is critical that you define why you are creating a an event hashtag. Your first reason should be to engage your overall audience and cultivate your online brand. Hashtags can also be used to engage audiences, crowdsource ideas,cultivate buzz, share resources, and form relationships. The more tactical you get, the more attention you should give to staying on topic when using that hashtag for communication. Hashtags should always be used to communicate relevant ideas and stay on topic.
STEP 2 – Research your audience and conversation
You don’t want to use an existing hashtag or confuse your audience with similar brands. You can confirm the usage of a hashtag by using Twitter search or Google search.
Take some time to research your current speakers, sponsors, and industry influencers to see if they are consistently using any topic based hashtags. This list of on-going conversation will give you an idea of what conversations are interesting and trendy to your event audience.
STEP 3 – Choose the event hashtag
Keep in mind that Twitter only has 140 characters. Keep it simple. Keep it short.
Don’t fall in love with it. Come up with alternatives and variations.
If you are going to use multiple event hashtags, try to keep a consistent variation and branding.
STEP 4 – Track and Measure it
There are multiple services that allow you to track conversations by hashtag. Tweetdeck is a free desktop application that allows you to sort conversations by a search field. Twilert allows you to track brand mentions.
STEP 5 – Coordinate it.
An essential part of using event hashtags is to work with the group that will be using it. If you make a general hashtag; work with attendees to use it. If you create a sponsor hashtag; create a plan for ROI. Have a basic description of the idea being implemented (or refer them to this article!)
STEP 6 – Cross promote the hashtag
Twitter and services like Widgetbox allow you to create ‘widgets’ that will display specific content that contains your hashtag. These widgets can be used in your web site, in e-mail campaigns, and digital signage.
STEP 7 – Cultivate and nurture
One of the key reasons for step 4 (track & measure) is so that you can see if and when a hashtag is being used (and by whom!)
Work with the interested parties to encourage an active and positive use of the event hashtag.
- Never assume that everyone wants to communicate or engage with a hashtag. A hashtag is a tactic that is used to reach a specific type of audience. Provide multiple ways to engage with you attendees in a positive and professional way.
- You can combine aspects of event hashtags with QR codes and Short URLs. QR Codes can be printed on simple vinyl decals and placed through-out your event to highlight access to additional information. When someone scans the QR code it can take them to a web page of relevant conversation.
- Hashtag words can become a ‘trending’ topic on Twitter can gain extra publicity. By coordinating large groups of users to hold a conversation on a specific hashtag topic you can gain a substantial wave of exposure.
- Consistency counts. In order to track a hashtag or to become a trending topic you need to make sure that everyone involved is using the exact same #hashtag (all it takes is one digit being different and it doesn’t work!)
- Plan for an emergency. Have several optional hashtags that can be used during your event in case of emergency. This could include anything from a bonifide disaster to a customer service crisis.