(Originally posted in IdeaCafe)
Have you ever tweeted something to hundreds or thousands of followers, only to hear nothing but crickets? It’s not just you — brands across the country are finding that the biggest source of engagement and interaction comes from a surprising source: non-followers.
On a recent product campaign, we reviewed 40,000 engagements for one of our clients and found that only 11 percent of interactions came from the brand’s followers. That means that non-followers represented eight times the engagement of followers. Yes, you read that correctly: You can get significantly more engagement from people who don’t even follow you — calling into question the true value of a follow.
How did this happen? Not with spammy promotional messages, that’s for sure. The brand did it by using relevant hashtags in its messages — a user engagement strategy that is quickly becoming the best way to reach the broadest audience of targeted users.
The Secret to Real Engagement Is Staying on Topic
Social media users love hashtags because they’re a way to cut through the noise on their Twitter feed and home in on their specific interests. Hashtags are a simple, effective way to tap into a community of active users. Advertisers can make use of this trend by applying those contextual hashtags to their current campaigns.
Here’s a great example: If you’re working for @Fab and want to show off the new line of Momofuku’s baked goods, you can tweet beautiful images with clever captions and obvious calls to action to your followers. But if you add one little hashtag (like #ValentinesDay), consider how many more people will see it.
And here’s the best part: Each person who sees your tweet is interested in the topic. It has context, which immediately lends itself to familiarity and genuine interest.
5 Best Practices for Engaging With Hashtags
The beauty of hashtags is that they are seen by anyone who searches for them, regardless of whether or not they follow you.
There are unlimited ways you can use hashtags to reach your target audience. You can use location-based hashtags, like #ATX for Austin or #SF for San Francisco. Or you can zero in on your industry to mine contextual hashtags. If your client is a web design consultancy, you can get inspired by looking through the #design tweets and accompanying hashtags. Local car dealer? Put away the chicken suit (please) and participate in some #F1 or #Daytona500 hashtags (or piggyback on big brands’ hashtags, such as #BuiltFordTough).
The brands with the best Twitter campaigns provide a mix of different kinds of hashtags to maximize non-follower engagement. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind to maximize your efforts:
1. Use a hashtag on every tweet.
When pushing updates on Twitter, include a hashtag on every update — even when you’re retweeting someone else’s comment. Use a brand-centric hashtag (#Coke for @Coke), or a campaign-specific hashtag (#AmericaIsBeautiful). If it’s a retweet or a reply to a customer, find a hashtag that compliments them, such as #CustomerLove.
2. Determine your target persona’s favorite bandwagon or trending hashtags.
If you don’t have automated tools that tell you which hashtags are being deployed by which users, you can scan the ones they’re using manually. Just be careful to use these hashtags intentionally and with appropriate relevance.
3. Limit the number of hashtags on your tweets.
There’s a reason you rarely see more than two hashtags on a successful tweet: More than that makes the tweet harder to read and comprehend. Stick to one or two hashtags per tweet to prevent your message from becoming indecipherable and spammy.
4. Keep it short and sweet.
As with any tweet, keep it short and on point, and use a clear call to action. You’ll also need to provide a shortened link so you can maximize your 140 characters.
5. Pay attention to readability.
If you create your own hashtag, make sure there are no spaces between the words. Budweiser floundered with its #Taste Is campaign, which would have been much better as #Taste_Is. You should also capitalize the first letter of each word in the hashtag for readability or use an underscore.
Tweeting and promoting only to your followers is a surefire way to miss out on the true engagement your brand is capable of. Instead, target useful, relevant, and trending hashtags for an incredible boost in engagement from the most unlikely source: your non-followers.