If You Aren’t Using Hashtags You are Preaching to the Choir

BY Kristen Friend

Presentation hall with rows of colored chairs
Presentation hall with rows of colored chairs

LISTEN

Law firms should use hashtags to get their message out to the widest, most relevant audience

The hashtag was born out of necessity as an organizational tool. Hashtags allow users to categorize information by creating searchable tags out of words or phrases preceded by a numerical pound sign (#) without a space.

The first hashtag appeared on Twitter in 2007 when former Google UX designer Chris Messina proposed using a pound sign for groups. All major social media networks now support hashtags. Google+ hashtags have been appearing in Google search results since 2013, the same year late adopter Facebook finally added hashtag support to its platform.

Twitter calls the hashtag a keyword, but its uses go far deeper than that. Hashtags can start discussions and spur movements. They can describe events, trends, groups, emotions, places, brands and any other concept an enterprising social media marketer can devise. Hashtags can be used creatively by any professional, attorneys included. You can increase your firm’s exposure by strategically adding hashtags to your social media posts.

How do hashtags increase a firm’s exposure?

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Even if your firm is doing all the right things — posting with regularity, posting interesting and relevant content and posting about stories not directly linked to your firm — without hashtags you are still talking only to your followers with the hopes they will share your posts. By adding hashtags to your posts, you can increase the number of people who are likely to see them and engage with them.

Simply Measured, a company specializing in social media analytics, studied the Twitter activity of the companies on the Interbrand 100 list. It looked at 34,707 tweets (that were not @ replies or retweets) and found that 67 percent of those tweets contained one or more hashtags and 45 percent contained at least one hashtag. Big brands have embraced hashtags, and for good reason. Within the study group, tweets containing hashtags earned 12 percent more engagement (measured by whether the tweet was retweeted or received an @ reply) than those without. The highest engagement level was seen in tweets that contained a hashtag and a link.

Each retweet and @ reply increases the chances that more people will see the original post. More eyeballs, especially among a group of users that has already indicated an interest in a topic relevant to your firm, will naturally increase awareness about your firm. Additional exposure also gives more users the opportunity to follow your firm.

Hashtags can also connect your post to a wider conversation. Posts that contain a hashtag are automatically linked to other posts with the same hashtag, and they become more searchable by those looking for information on a specific topic.

Posts that contain a popular hashtag are even more likely to be seen, and adding a trending hashtag to a social media post is a viable marketing tactic. However, be very cautious when using this method. Your post must be related to the popular topic, and it must be respectful of the topic. For example, the Comcast–Time Warner Cable merger received steady coverage for many months and would have potentially affected a large swath of the U.S. population. A business law oriented firm could have created content, like an infographic, detailing the anatomy of a merger and used hashtags to hop on to that news item.

Do hashtags produce followers?

One study performed by Peter Bray at Followerwonk suggests that hashtag use is correlated with more followers. The research looked at the day-by-day posts of over 4,000 users over an extended period of time. The variables studied included tweets with images, tweets containing URLs and tweets utilizing hashtags, among others. The sample spanned a range of very large Twitter accounts to very small ones, which could skew percentages slightly. Large accounts would need a lot of new followers to show a percentage increase while smaller accounts might only need a few.

Even with this caveat, the results are worth noting. Like Simply Measured, Bray found that roughly 45 percent of all regular tweets use hashtags. Companies of all sizes are recognizing that hashtags equal more exposure and allow them to reach people they may not otherwise.

Moreover, the research showed a correlation between the use of hashtags and more followers. Every additional tweet with a hashtag showed up to a two percent increase in new followers. Getting the message to more people is beneficial.

It is worth noting that these results could be dependent on a brand’s audience. (The audience for this study consisted predominantly of Moz and Followerwonk customers.) Test engagement and follower levels for different types of posts and different hashtags to determine what works best for your audience.

What can your law firm do to take advantage of hashtags?

The benefits of hashtags are real, and any old hashtag won’t do. Due to the nature of social media, companies that fail at using hashtag can fail spectacularly.

The NYPD got a digital earful when it tried to use the hashtag #MyNYPD to encourage people to tell positive stories about the police force. This misreading of public sentiment resulted in a PR nightmare, with people tweeting pictures of police violence and attaching the tag, #MyNYPD.

Pizza maker DiGiorno also learned quickly to be careful what hashtag you hijack when it used the hashtag #WhyIStayed, which was being used to discuss domestic violence, to ask people to stay in and have pizza at home. Before you jump into the hashtag game, set up some guidelines.
Here are some ways your firm can take advantage of hashtags.

1. Establish brand hashtags.

Your brand hashtags are those that will consistently be associated with your firm. Using brand hashtags makes it easier for followers (and their followers) to identify content related to your firm. Keep these hashtags simple. They should be easy to remember and not use too many characters. A brand hashtag may be related to a niche practice area, or it may be the name of an event you host regularly. You may also consider creating a tagline out of a hashtag, like #FinanciallyFocused or #ClientPartners. Brand hashtags can be a creative way of building a recognizable connection with your firm and an organized marketing concept.

Choose brand hashtags with caution. Once you release them into the social media hinterlands, you cannot take them back. Consider ways your hashtag could be commandeered, like #MyNYPD. Look at what else the hashtag may spell. In 2012, Susan Boyle’s team chose the tag #Susanalbumparty (Susan Album Party) as a promotional hashtag for her album release. Unfortunately, an alternative spelling was quickly noted (see the word preceding “bum”), and mockery ensued.

2. Research to find the best hashtags.

Tools can help with hashtag research. Trendsmap (www.trendsmap.com) shows popular hashtags by location, allowing firms to see what people are talking about in their areas. Social media management company Sprout Social offers a trends report that shows what people are talking about when they mention you on Twitter. You can see how often a word or hashtag was mentioned each month and what other top words were associated with that topic.

If you would like to explore words and their associations, Keyhole (keyhole.co) allows you to enter a keyword, hashtag or URL to discover associated topics. Keyhole tells you who is talking about the keyword, where the mentions are coming from, what other topics people are using with the keyword and what influencers are talking about the topic, among other things.

The goal of your research should be to discover what people are talking about and determine how those topics may be related to your firm or practice areas. Ignore any trends that are not relevant to your firm.

3. Host a Twitter chat.

A Twitter chat is a public discussion centered around a specific hashtag. Firms with good social media reach could use Twitter chats in the same way they use webinars — only with more interaction. Twitter chats put you in a virtual room with a group of people interested in your topic. You can answer questions instantly and get immediate feedback.

Try attending a Twitter chat or two before attempting to set up your own. A master Twitter Chat Schedule spreadsheet exists as a public-access Google Doc, and it can be used to find regularly occurring chats to attend. (To find the document, google the phrase, “Twitter Chat Schedule Google Doc.”)

Tweet Reports (tweetreports.com) also keeps a Twitter chat schedule, organized by topic, moderator, date and time.


4. Promote across channels.

All social networks worth using for marketing purposes support hashtags, and your firm should use hashtags on all platforms. However, be sensitive to the ways in which hashtags are generally used on different sites. Hashtags on Facebook and Twitter tend to describe topics while hashtags on Instagram tend to describe the image. Do not simply post the same update to all networks; consider how each network’s users will consume the information.

5. Use proper hashtag etiquette.

Too many hashtags is too much of a good thing. Engagement starts to fall off around three hashtags per post, and brands tend to see follower loss associated with the use of too many hashtags. Using many more than two is considered spam. It is also considered hashtag spam to automatically post updates centered around someone else’s event. For example, a firm that uses the hashtag #ABATechShow to shamelessly promote its IP practice will quickly be called out for poor judgement.

Hashtags have made their way into mainstream social acceptance and are not likely to disappear any time soon. Your firm can use hashtags to gain a wider audience, increase its authority, grow its follower base and create a community of people who can organically assist with new client outreach.
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Kristen Friend

Kristen Friend is a staff contributor for Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She has covered political stories on radio stations like WMNF in Florida and has had her work broadcast by Free Speech Radio News (FSNR). As an Award Winning Art Director, Kristen has been recognized by the WebAwards, Davey's Award, W3 Awards, Webby Awards, and others for her work with law firms.

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