What Are Hashtags Really For? #Confused #Blessed #NoFilter

What Are Hashtags Really For?

In late 2014, the hashtag #WhyIStayed was trending on Twitter. Frozen pizza slinger DiGiorno, known for being snarky and clever on social media, wanted to join the fun:

DiGiorno Hashtag Social Media Marketing Fail

There was just one problem: #WhyIStayed started in response to a video of domestic abuse. Women used the hashtag to tell their own story of abuse and talk about the societal pressures that led them to stay with their abusers.

At best, DiGiorno looked clueless. At worst, it looked like they were making light of a very serious issue. All they wanted was a little brand visibility…and they got it, but not in the way they were hoping.

Hashtags are an integral part of Twitter and Instagram (and Facebook, to a much lesser extent). As such, they should be part of our social media marketing on each platform. But as DiGiorno and many other brands have shown, it’s not enough to look at the trending tags and hop on board. Marketers need to understand what hashtags are for and how our audience is using them before we jump in.

Here are the #fundamentals you need to avoid invisibility or embarrassment with hashtags.


Hashtags started as a feature on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels back in 1988, when the internet still ran on steam turbine power. The “#” in front of channel meant that it was available for users across the internet, not just on a local area network.

Twenty years later, IRC fans who were early Twitter adopters proposed using the symbol to help classify common topics or groups. Twitter itself didn’t officially recognize hashtags for two more years. In 2009, the site started automatically hyperlinking hashtags to search results.

Facebook added hashtags in 2013, but they don’t see as much use on the platform. By contrast, Facebook-owned Instagram practically runs on hashtags. It’s not unusual to see a post with a four-word captioned followed by a paragraph of tags: #NoFilter #WokeUpLikeThis #BeachLife #SanDiego #ChihuahuaLove. Clicking any of the tags leads to a custom feed of images with the same tag, much like Twitter’s search functionality works.


Hashtags began as a way to categorize information for future searchers, much like the category or topic tags on a blog. In that case, using the right hashtags is more like SEO than anything else; it’s all about making sure your message comes up for the right query.

But hashtags aren’t really for search anymore. Hardly anyone is going to the search box on Twitter or Instagram and putting in a keyword to pull up a specific hashtag.

Hashtags are not really for marketers to boost their brand or their content, either. We can strategically use hashtags for that purpose, but we must remember that’s an off-label use. It’s important to tread lightly on using hashtags promotionally — as DiGiorno and many others can attest.

If it’s not about search or self-promotion, how should marketers think about hashtags? Or, better question, how does your audience think about hashtags?

Odds are, though, your audience doesn’t actively think about why they use or interact with a specific tag. There’s an innate understanding that makes some tags look “right” or “natural,” while others feel “forced” or “commercial.”

The best way I can think of to express that innate understanding is:


Social media feeds move fast. Hashtags are a way for users to block out space to have a conversation. “We’re telling this type of story in here.” “We’re sharing this type of picture in here.” Using a specific existing hashtag should come with the knowledge that you’re entering someone else’s conversation space.

The social media manager at DiGiorno likely wouldn’t go up to a group of people talking about a sad and serious topic in hushed tones and shout, “PIZZA!” But that’s exactly what they did on Twitter.

So before you jump into a conversation, make sure that:

  • You understand what’s being discussed
  • Your brand has (and should have) a position on the topic
  • You have something relevant to contribute

When you’re making your own hashtags, keep in mind that you’re starting a conversation. You can’t control who contributes to that conversation and what they might add to it.

For example, in 2012 McDonald’s used the hashtag #McDStories in a tweet, seemingly inviting users to share their own special memories of the chain. Instead, they got stories about food poisoning, diabetes, heart attacks, and animal cruelty.

It turns out McDonald’s had intended to use the tag to promote stories from employees and others affiliated with the brand. But they accidentally started a much wider conversation. With a little forethought, the mess could have been avoided.

So, when creating your own hashtag, keep in mind:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • How else could your hashtag be interpreted?
  • What other conversations might it start?


Good hashtaggery starts with understanding that hashtags are a conversation. From there, the optimum tactics for using hashtags vary from platform to platform. The good folks at Buffer have an in-depth guide that touches on each of the major social media sites.

Here are some simple tips that I recommend to supplement Buffer’s advice:

  • Use hashtags sparingly on Twitter; no more than 2 per post, preferably just one
  • Don’t use tags on paid tweets. They’re proven to dilute your CTA
  • Go nuts on Instagram; 11 hashtags is the optimal number
  • Don’t bother tagging on Facebook. Research shows your post will do better without them
  • Use CamelCase to keep longer tags legible (Remember the “susanalbumparty” debacle?)


Hashtags started as a tagging tool for search. Today, they’re used to create a space for conversations, group people with similar interests, and fill Instagram feeds with puppies. To be most successful with your hashtags, respect conversations that exist already, and be cautious about the conversations you start.

Need to #LevelUp your social media marketing? TopRank Marketing can help.

Death of Facebook Organic Reach = New Opportunities for Influencer Marketing

Facebook Zero Influencers

Earlier this month, marketers were shocked to learn that Facebook would be making more major changes to its News Feed, effectively bringing brand and publisher organic reach to zero by prioritizing high engagement content from family, friends and groups.

In a formal statement posted on his own Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg said:

“We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.”

“But recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other. … Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook.”

While the announcement seemed to be the final nail in the organic News Feed coffin, the death of organic reach on Facebook has been a long time coming. Back in April 2015, Facebook announced it was updating News Feeds to strike a better balance between friends, public figures, publishers, businesses and community organizations. Then in late June 2016, Facebook said it would be making further refinements to ensure users don’t miss updates from their friends and families.

Now, after an intense year of political and social upheaval — not to mention the emergence of the fake news engine and the Russian advertising scandal — it’s no surprise that Facebook is re-examining things yet again.

But What Does It All Mean for Marketers?

Naturally, disappointed marketers all over the world are wondering how this change will truly impact their social marketing efforts. From our perspective, the change:

  • Ends the organic reach of the News Feed and increases the importance of adding pay-to-play to your marketing mix — something that will likely require a bigger budget.
  • Bolsters the importance of channel diversification.
  • Makes it more important than ever for you to zero in on who your audience is and what motivates them, so you can share content and create an environment that will pique interest and engagement.
  • Means Instagram will more than likely follow suit in the near future.

The Influencer Implication

Since Zuckerberg’s announcement, there’s been one implication in particular that’s captivated our attention. The way we see it, the value of influencer engagement on Facebook will increase even more.

Our CEO, Lee Odden, has long been an evangelist for working with influencers, believing that influencers can help brands bypass several obstacles. AdBlocking, for example, is in use on over 600 million devices, costing business over $22 billion in ad revenue, according to PageFair. Working with credible influencers who are trusted amongst an audience allows brands to bypass the adblocking obstacle and better connect with buyers.

Lee has also talked about other challenges such as distrust of brand advertising. In fact, 69% of consumers don’t trust ads, according to research by Ipsos Connect. And yet another obstacle is information overload. Americans are confronted with an average of 63GB of media on a daily basis (USC/ICTM).

All of these obstacles, according to Lee, are addressed by working with industry influencers. The virtual elimination of organic News Feed visibility for brands and publishers on Facebook is no different and marketers would be smart to think about how influencer engagement can keep organic Facebook visibility alive.

So, to sum it all up: Now that the organic News Feed is effectively dead, new life is being given to influencer marketing opportunities. Here are a few key considerations:

#1 – If you’re not in the influencer marketing game yet, you can no longer afford to wait.

Last year, we saw influencer marketing explode — becoming one of the most talked about topics among marketers and arguably our most-requested digital marketing services among both B2B and B2C clients. In addition, our own research shows that 57% of marketers say influencer marketing will be integrated in all marketing activities in the next three years.

This quote from Lee sums it up well:

“For any kind of content a business creates and publishes to the world, there is an opportunity for collaboration with credible voices that have active networks interested in what those voices have to say. In many cases, [audiences are] far more interested [in an influencer’s insights] than in what the brand has to say.”

With Facebook reducing branded content and elevating content from individuals, there’s no better time to invest in influencers — which can have an impact across all social platforms.

With #Facebook reducing branded content and elevating content from individuals, there’s no better time to invest in influencers. #influencermarketing Click To Tweet

#2 – Influencers now hold more power than ever to more strategically align themselves with brands of their choice.

Influencer marketing was already poised to be big in 2018, but this change to Facebook’s platform will absolutely spur more brands and businesses to dip their toe into the water. As a result, influencers will see an uptick in requests, giving them more power to be very choosy about which brands they lend their time, insights and audience to.

Influencers have more power to be very choosy about the brand they lend their time, insights and audience to. #influencermarketing Click To Tweet

#3 – Influencer nurturing will be more important than ever.

As illustrated by the previous two points, the Facebook change will lead to an increased adoption of influencer marketing, giving influencers more options. So it’s no surprise that it’ll be time to double-down on your commitment to influencer nurturing.

Now, we’ve always said that when it comes to building relationships and rapport with influencers, it’s critical that you put the time and effort into nurturing — rather than simply reaching out when you have a need. There has to be shared value.

But I think most marketers would admit that they have significant room for improvement in this area — and there’s no time like the present to recommit yourself.

With #Facebook’s recent algorithm change, it’s time to double-down on your commitment to nurturing your influencers. #influencermarketing Click To Tweet

Capitalize on the Opportunity

Let’s face it. This “major change” to Facebook’s platform isn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last. As a result, now is the time to fully capitalize on the opportunity by better working with industry influencers. Now is the time to refocus on connecting with your audience — and influencers can help you do just that by adding authenticity, credibility, unique insights and new eyeballs to your content.

What else is in store for influencer marketing in 2018? Check out these rising influencer marketing trends that you need to pay attention to.

What do you think about the latest Facebook News Feed algorithm change? Tell us in the comments section below.

What Does it Take For Your Business to Stay Top of Mind?

When we’re at work, we want to believe that people think about our business all day long. In our minds, we’re the FIRST company a customer or prospective customer considers when a particular need arises. But you and I both know that’s not how it works.

What does it take for your business to stay top of mind?

This work we’re talking about is called branding. And in the old days, that would mean thinking up names and logos and colors and what have you and you’d call it good.

Kit Kat candy bar wrappers are red. They’re the ones with four “fingers” of crisp wafers surrounded by chocolate. There you go. That’s what they are. They compete with other candy bars by being crispy, easy to share (who shares their candy bars?), and beyond that? Who knows?

Your business isn’t a candy bar (unless it is). And even if you’re a candy bar, that’s a massively competitive space. Anything like this: candy bars, chips, and soft drinks are seemingly easy to brand and sell, but it’s actually a lot of work. (Later in the week, I’ll interview Eric Plantenberg about what it took to bring Humm Kombucha not only to the average soft drink consumer but also onto the shelves of Target and Walmart. He’s their chief strategy officer.)

To stay top of mind, you have to make it utterly clear what you solve for your buyer. There’s an easy starter recipe to build this kind of thing. Want to hear it?

The four levers you can adjust to improve brand awareness and retention

I have four simple ways to look at helping a customer or prospective customer remember your business and your brand (no matter how big or small your copmany). Think of this as a recipe you can work with.

What’s in the mix?

Goal – Any time you intend to reach out and connect or communicate in any form (advertising, bringing attention to the business, reaching out to customers, etc), be VERY aware of the goal of your customer/buyer. Why would they look for you in the first place? What’s THEIR goal that you help them achieve?

Clarity – Any time you talk about your business, be clear. I help companies use tech to improve customer interactions. It’s taken me ages to land on that. Clarity is about making what you solve utterly simple and straightforward. How can you make what you do for people super easy to understand and straightforward?

Simplicity – Clarity almost covers this, but sometimes you can be clear but you might get fancy. Simplicity is just that. Keep the menus brief. Make everything succinct. Don’t over-extend. That sort of thing.

Repetition – Say it. Say it again. Make it tweetable. Make it rhyme, maybe. Make it stick. Repeat. This right here is my biggest miss. I tend to create and release, which lets me brag about my big brain or something, but this doesn’t help STICK into people’s heads the easy story of how I help people.

You can’t be top of mind if you’ve already been forgotten.

The recipe is simple but not easy

Solve their goal. Be clear about it. Keep it simple. Repeat the story. That’s really “it,” but you already know there’s more to “it” in the long run.

And yet, have you mastered this part about your business? Probably not. When you’re not around, would someone you’ve spoken with know how to sell you/your product or service? Not the way you’d WANT them to, at least. Right?

If you want to stay top of mind, this is the work. Build something memorable in service of your customers’ goals and you’ve got a chance. Make it easier for them to buy and easier for them to get what they need, and you’ll stay in the story longer. But for now? Ask yourself how well you handle those four simple ingredients.

And if you need help, I’m here for you.

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Your Customer Data Needs to Be Smarter

One of the new content marketing trends for 2018 is to build stronger levels of content personalization into the marketing and communications workflows you send to your customers. It sounds tricky, but the truth is that the data is often there, and with just a little bit of manual intervention, there could be even more. The big point I want to make in this post to you is that your data needs to be used in better ways to improve customer engagement and to nurture better customer experiences.

Your Customer Data Needs to Be Smarter

If you have customers, you have data. You know their name probably, and there’s a contact method or two, and there are payment records of some kind. Most everyone has that. You might also have purchase history. For instance, at Owner Media, I know who’s bought what, how much they’ve spent, etc. And this is all pretty common for most companies. It’s what ELSE you can do that we’re going to talk about.

We need to collect and/or USE what we’ve collected to better shape the customer experience. What do I mean? What does that look like? Let me lay out a few samples.

Example: Hotel

I stay in plenty of hotels, Marriott often. Here’s what COULD be done with the data Marriott probably has laying around for me:

  • Chris doesn’t care about the view from his room – exclude “primo” rooms so we can save them for guests who care about that.
  • Chris wants lots of plugs for his gadgets – upon checkin, send someone to his room with a power strip for his stay.
  • Chris travels mostly randomly – exclude marketing for specific locations, but include marketing for system-wide deals, and/or maybe destination recommendations.

There are so many other ways to collect and use the data, but those were three quick ones. Let’s move to another idea.

Example: HVAC Company- B2B

Let’s say I’m the operations and facilities guy at a data center. You run the HVAC company that services my systems.

  • Keep Chris’s service calendar up to date, but also product end-of-life dates and “walk back” the start of a sales process conversation so that it matches before that EOL date.
  • Marry the above information to what Chris told us about his company’s purchase process to find the right date to start the re-sale process.
  • Bring Chris weather and power forecast data for his center to help improve Chris’s ability to size and scale his systems appropriately.
  • Stay updated on related and complementary products and services and send updates to Chris, even when (especially when!) they aren’t a product you sell.

Some companies do this, but they are few. Most B2B companies pay attention to product lifecycle and sales cycle information, but rarely go beyond this to collaborate with the client and find other potential opportunities to serve.

Example: Online Grocery Delivery

I’ll tell you that I have a huge desire for someone to build me this.

  • Chris tells the system: plan 6 days of meals for 1 person, vegan, with a $150 budget.
  • System checks allrecipes.com for “vegan meals”
  • System checks myfitnesspal.com for calorie and nutrient breakdowns for the meals from allrecipes.
  • System matches finalized meals against grocery store price lists to match the $150 budget.
  • A little rework probably happens
  • System schedules meal grocery delivery to my house.

This is SO do-able. And once you get really smart with the data, you can add in some details, like food preferences (fewer beets and more Brussels sprouts, or whatever).

Start With Tagging

The first step of being able to use smarter data with your customer base comes from mapping out what you want to collect and/or how you intend to use it. You might know the “what” long before you know the “how.” For instance, I know who went to my Boston event and who went to my Portland event at Owner. I can thus start with them when inviting someone to another in-person event. I can then invite whoever’s spent more than $2000 with me. Etc. I can do this because I have the data and have added tags to various accounts accordingly.

What other tag categories should you consider? These are recommendations of tag “categories,” not specific tags. (And when I say “tags,” I’m saying “affix this information to the customer’s record in a way you can query it later. Taxonomy and folksonomy stuff.)

  • Location – you might bucket people up based on where
  • Frequency – are people frequent buyers or rare
  • Interest – this one’s a “duh.” If you know WHAT people like, you can offer more of it
  • Preference – what does your buyer like or dislike
  • Buyer Persona – David Meerman Scott’s great term for what you might also call an avatar, etc
  • NEXT – this one’s fun. Tag people with “people who like this might also like that” data.

Start Somewhere

As I said in my post about needing better CRM, we have to start with creating more smart data to pick from. Then, we can sample and test using that data to drive better customer experiences for our buyers. From here, we can see what works and what doesn’t and grow from there.

But the starting point? Collect, tag, and review some of the data you already have but aren’t using. Look for ways to append this data with more useful information. And build possible maps to see where knowing what you know leads your customer and your efforts to support him or her.

And, as always, I can help.

This story first appeared on chrisbrogan.com.

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My 3 Words for 2018

It’s that time of year. You’re thinking: “how can I make this a better year than last?” Maybe you need a resolution. But no, I’ve found that New Years Resolutions rarely survive the first six or seven days of January. Which is why I started the My 3 Words practice back in 2006. Let me share it with you!

What is the My 3 Words Process?

Every year, at the beginning of the year, choose 3 words that have personal meaning to you that you will use as guideposts for your chosen path forward in the coming year. Make the words such that they influence your choice of actions, encourage you to decide in favor of your goals, and guide you towards lasting results that you want to experience throughout the year.

Write these words down. Post them everywhere. Schedule them to pop up in your calendar. And use these words as part of your decision-making process every day.

How do you Choose Your Words?

The words that you select for My 3 Words are meant to serve as lighthouses to guide you through foggy moments. To that end, it’s important to pick words that have enough meaning that you’ll snap your perspective into alignment with them and build out your days, weeks, months, and year accordingly.

What does that look like?

Let’s say you want to lose 30 pounds in 2018. Maybe one of your words is “green.” It reminds you to fill half your plate with nutritious green vegetables and fresh fruits at every meal, and to make your snacks more healthy, as well.

Maybe you need to focus on your creative projects, like that podcast you’ve been threatening to launch. The word “focus” isn’t bad, but maybe the word “voice” is better, as in “people will benefit from hearing your voice.”

No matter which words you select, make sure they have personal meaning to you that can guide your choices of how you spend your time and which efforts you focus on.

A Couple Quick No-Nos from Lessons Learned

This is just an exercise I created. I’m not some kind of word-warden. But I’ve got over a decade of experience in people’s reported-back results as well as my own. I can tell you some of what doesn’t work well.

  • Can I pick two words? Four? – You can do whatever. I’ve found 3 works best.
  • My 3 words are a phrase: stop the donkey – Phrases often waste one of 3 precious and powerful words. Why waste a year long focus by making “the” a word?
  • Can I change my words mid-year? – You CAN, but most people who do this report having a less-than-successful year.
  • I just want to repeat last year’s words – Are you planning on repeating last year’s results? Has the world changed at all? (Not recommended, but even I repeat sometimes.)
  • I forced mine to be an acronym: BIG – Cool, if all three words work for you. Not as cool if you picked a word to sacrifice a space just so you could spell “big.”

Again, you do you, but that’s what I’ve experienced.

Previous 3 Words from Me

2006 – Ask. Do. Share
2007 – Seek. Frame. Build. Bridge (yes, that was 4. It also was a less successful year.)
2008 – Believe. Loops.Farm
2009 – Equip. Armies. Needles
2010 – Ecosystems. Owners. Kings
2011 – Reinvest. Package. Flow
2012 – Temple. Untangle. Practice
2013 – Walt. Ender. Monchu
2014 – Lifestyle. Monchu. Black.
2015 – Plan. Leverage. Fabric.
2016 – Home. Shine. Win.
2017 – Move.Voice.Game

My 2017 wasn’t so great. It was a lot like 2016, if I squint. I refuse to let 2018 follow suit.

My 3 Words for 2018

And now, here are My 3 Words for 2018:

Ritual – I’ve fallen away from developing habits and operational tempo in my days. I need to build back rituals and make them the guts of how I structure my life and living. This also reminds me to place great strength and power into the simple matters of life, like choosing what I eat and drink, and ensuring that I treat my life as if I’m making moments instead of just clicking off hours.

Execute – Push the button. Make something happen. Take action. I’ve felt a bit sluggish in 2017. Time to power back up. Execute is a reminder to move and take action and do something instead of just think about it. Have the difficult conversations.

Value – Create value. Make sure my time is dedicated to creating value. Build more and more value for myself and others. Help companies see the value in the projects I intend to help them execute in 2018. That’s the big plan. Be clear that I value myself more.

So, those are my words. They’re personal to my challenges, my efforts, what I want from my family and my life and my business. Yours will be your own, of course.

Share YOUR 3 Words for 2018

I’d LOVE to see what you come up with for 2018. Use the hashtag #my3words and share links to your posts or just your Tweets, your IG posts, or whatever. Wherever you communicate with the world, share your #my3words with us, so we can see what each other comes up with!

I look forward to seeing yours!

This post first appeared on chrisbrogan.com.

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