Why #Hashtags Are Critical to Your Social Media Success

Why #Hashtags Are Critical to Your Social Media Success Your Social Media Campaigns May Be Missing Out

Our most recent social media blog included several regarding hashtags. Retired educator Joan Gustafson started the comment discussion by asking: “Still not sure about using hashtags….I “get” it and know why people use them…but do people really “search” for info using hashtags? #notsureabouthashtags #whynotsearchgoogleratherthashtags #andIthoughtIwasdonewithhashtags :)”

Others echoed the sentiment of “do we really need them?” and “unclear about hashtags.”

I wanted to write a blog post focused on getting to the bottom of why and how to use them.

A few years ago, my wife and I took our family to Disney World for the first time. Upon arrival, we registered and each of us received a large button that proclaimed “1st Visit” surrounded by Micky, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck. Our family was so excited we promptly pinned those on and set out. At the time, I didn’t think much about it, but throughout our week-long visit, it was the beacon that got us noticed. Whenever waiting for attractions or walking down the streets, characters, “cast members” (Disney’s word for employees) and others would seem to go out of their way to ask us if we were having an enjoyable time and if we needed anything. Only later did I realize that simple button was the signal to others to engage in an intentional way with my family.

Just as Disney uses the power of a button to encourage engagement with the right audience, your social media strategy can do the same. Rather than a button to wear on your apparel, you have the power of the hashtag to get you and your message noticed.

Hashtags Defined

According to Twitter, a hashtag is “any word or phrase with the # symbol immediately in front of it.” Hashtags were created organically by Twitter users as a means to organize the vast amount of content flowing through the social media channel. Hashtags also make it easier to follow a conversation about a particular topic or find a topic based upon the search function. Since the introduction on Twitter, most networks are using them in one way or another, including the following: Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest. Suffice it to say, hashtags are here to stay.

7 Reasons You Should be Using Hashtags

Now that we have established what hashtags are and their importance, here are seven reasons to start using them today:

1. Streams

Many social media users leverage dashboard tools such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to organize the information that they consume. These tools allow you to set up “channels” to monitor and organize your followers (e.g. donors, media, colleagues), manage outgoing communication drafts, and follow keyword hashtags.

Much of my content is discovered by my use of hashtags that I know my audience follows: #hesm (higher education social media), #HEmkting (higher education marketing) #ismarketing (independent school marketing), and #emchat (the hashtag used for a Thursday night chat by enrollment management professionals).

I discovered these hashtags by using Hashtagify.me, an online database that organizes popular hashtags and provides related and relevant hashtags to consider. I found my options by analyzing the hashtag #highered. Remember that choosing hashtags is an important process in your strategy, and you should find tags that are in circulation to associate with your organization.

2. Search

A number of users also take advantage of the search function within social media networks to discover accounts to follow based upon their hashtag usage. Hashtags can improve your search engine optimization within the network.

Many Twitter users leverage the hashtags not only in their communication, but in their profile descriptions for this reason. Much like the streams, search is a way for your message to be discovered and followed in an easy way for your users.

3. Gain Influencer Notice

Another reason to leverage hashtags is to gain the attention of influencers. Within the Hashtagify.me tool set, you’ll find the ability to identify the most influential users for a particular hashtag. This is important because every time an influencer retweets or engages with your communication, it is amplified to their audience and to possible followers for your organization.

Understanding and building relationships with these individuals can create dynamic opportunity for your messaging.

4. Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising within social media is heating up and producing strong returns on the investment. A strategy for amplifying your message is to include trending or popular hashtags with your advertisement.

Again, turning to online tools to best understand your target audience and the hashtags that they are using can yield improved results for your campaigns and conversions. This should be a part of your social media strategy.

5. Online Chats

In their book The Art of Social Media, Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick outline an excellent strategy for Twitter chats – organized discussions monitored by hashtags to allow users to follow conversations. I encourage admissions offices to consider developing and scheduling prospective student and parent chats throughout the fall months. This could also be used for advancement and alumni relations to organize meet-ups and other question/answer times with key leaders.

Developing your own hashtag as part of that chat strategy is recommended, and using popular hashtags to initially promote it would be part of the marketing strategy.

6. Newsjacking

During Superbowl XLVII, the power went out in the New Orleans Superdome. One tweet from Oreo Cookies stole the show and was remembered as one of the brilliant advertising moves of the night. They did not pay the millions of dollars for an elaborate 60-second ad. They used a tweet:

Power out? No problem. http://pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC

— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013

David Meerman Scott, in his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR discusses the new trend of “newsjacking” and how by strategically using hashtags around a news event, an organization can essentially hi-jack some coverage by inserting themselves into the news stream. While this is not for everyone, nor should it be an early part of your strategy, it may be a future option for more mature social media experts.

7. Offline Promotion = Viral Opportunities

Indiana University leveraged hashtags as part of a brilliant admission promotion. The simple use of the hashtag #IUSAIDYES on bright, bold red envelopes produced a viral social media campaign when students began posting selfies with their acceptance letters:

hello BLOOMINGTON ❤️ #IUsaidYes http://pic.twitter.com/YS9UaHxEc3 — Jaye. (@jaayeee___) February 15, 2015

Creative thinking with hashtags may result in wider audiences for your marketing messages.

Hashtags are a key tool in your social media strategy. These seven ideas are just some of the reasons you should use hashtags and understand them in a greater degree. With planning and strategy, hashtags should become a regular part of your social media practice.

How are you using Hashtags? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.

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The #1 Killer of Social Media Success

The #1 Killer of Social Media Success

There’s something seductive about the immediacy of social media that can cause intelligent people to publish the strangest things to their social media profiles. But of all the social media blunders a college or university can commit, the most common killer of social media success is organization-centric content.

None of us likes being around the person who dominates every conversation, talking on and on about themselves.

You and I would never act like this — and thankfully, most people that you meet aren’t like this.

But for some reason, the allure of social media can make even the best of us a little self-centered.

For example, when at a networking event, we normally seek to include others in the conversation. But on social media, we tend to go on rants that don’t encourage dialogue.

Or, if we meet someone for the first time in person, we talk about what interests them, instead of ourselves. But on social media, our followers normally receive an endless barrage of content talking about… well, us.

We post things about our goals, our vision, our successes, our latest new asset, or our latest new program. And while it’s all true and exciting for us as staff members…

This kind of organization-centric content is a silent killer that’s destroying your chances of social media success.

It’s not that we’re selfish, but organization-centric content shows that we’ve deeply misunderstood the social media platform, its nature, and its impact on the expectations of the audience.

The Social Media Platform

The social media platform is fundamentally different than the various other platforms marketers have been using for years to communicate to their audiences.

So when we bring to the social media platform our assumptions, best practices, and strategies from other platforms, it’s no wonder we don’t get the results that we’re looking for.

Social media success comes when you stop using it like a megaphone to blast your PR announcements.Bringing your best strategies from print, television, and ad marketing to social media is like using a telephone the way you would a megaphone. These are two devices with similar technology and materials, but with fundamentally different purposes and designs.

The social media platform is designed for interaction, dialogue, and sharing.

Social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn favor profiles that get a lot of conversation, likes, and shares going on their posts and limit the reach of profiles with low interaction.

Organization-centric content reduces the amount of shares and likes your content will get, which means the social design of the platform technology will work against you by limiting the organic reach of your posts.

The Nature of Social Media

On social media, it’s all about generosity. To make more “friends” or add more “followers,” you have to be seen as a brand that’s generous in time, content, and influence.

Being generous with time refers to the amount of time you spend answering questions and responding to comments. Believe me, the amount of time you spend on social media will show through in the quality and quantity of your posts and comments.

Being generous in your content means that you’re posting content that makes sense for your audience. It’s relevant and useful to them – answering the questions they have.

Being generous with your influence means that you promote or simply share your followers’ content with your audience.

Most social media platforms make it incredibly simple and quick to reshare posts and content while adding a few thoughts or comments from your brand on the content.

When we post organization-centric content, we’re not using our time, content, or influence for the benefit of our audience — and this positions your brand as lacking the generosity demanded by today’s social media users.

The Impact of Social Media

Organization-centric content ignores the impact social media has had on the audience. Years ago, before social media, simply blasting the audience with marketing messages was enough to produce the desired consumer behavior.

Not anymore. Social media has dramatically changed the way consumers receive marketing messages and make decisions on who’ll they trust.

For one, studies show that digital natives expect to have a two-way conversation with brands.

And two — they expect it quickly! Social media has affected our attention spans.

study performed by Microsoft suggests that the average person in 2015 had an attention span of just 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. Yet another study shows that “53 percent of consumers expect to hear back within one hour whenever they tweet a brand.”

Finally, when it comes to marketing, consumers now have control over what they do and do not wish to see.

On social media, the platform itself filters out advertising the user has indicated that they don’t want to see. People can click away advertisements, unfollow, or unfriend you.

The consumer is almost in complete control when it comes to the brand-consumer relationship — which means they’ll block your content if it’s too organization-centric.

The Better Way

When you’re in a meeting with your college or university’s leadership team, I’m sure you hear this concern brought up frequently:

What’s best for our students?

And that makes sense because you’re working in higher education for their benefit, not yourself.

So if your organization’s reason for existing is to serve the interests of your audience, why send them anything — including free content or social media messages— that’s not in their interest?

Yes, there’s still a place for the old-fashioned public relations message and general announcements. From time to time, this organization-centric content should go in a social media post.

But if your social media feeds become PR channels rather than a robust conversation between you and your school brand’s followers, you’ll find it hard to grow your follower base or drive conversion.

To see social media success, stay true to who you are: A selfless organization that’s in it for the good of others.

Avoid the silent killer at all cost. Stay social. Be generous.

By the way, an outside, objective expert opinion can really help to see how well your social media efforts are doing. Contact us today for a free digital marketing audit!

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Infuriatingly Common Social Media Marketing Blunders

Infuriatingly Common Social Media Marketing Blunders

These online marketing blunders are easy to spot… when you’re not the one committing them. Today, we list 10 of the most common – and most egregious – social media marketing sins that higher education marketers make, and how you can avoid these costly errors.

Blunder #1: Publishing irrelevant content.

Distributing content that’s irrelevant to your audiences is the surest way to banish your brand to irrelevance. Audiences only come back to content authors that are publishing content that’s relevant to them.

But this is a tricky one. Everyone would agree that you shouldn’t publish irrelevant content, but since relevance is relative, who’s to decide what is relevant and what is not?

The answer: Your audience. But even more specifically…

The audience must always be the reference point for what is relevant or not.

What questions is your audience asking from you?

If you’re writing a blog post for alumni, you can be sure they’re not asking you about your president’s pet project (although I’m sure it’s fascinating!). But they will be asking you about his or her vision to further your college or university for the next three to five years.

If you’re crafting an infographic for prospective students, you can be sure they’re not asking you to show them how technology is shaping the future of education. But they will be asking you how your institution is at the forefront of leveraging technology for your students.

Don’t publish what you find interesting, per se. Publish the answers to the questions your audience is coming to you for.

Blunder #2: Publishing content your audience can get anywhere else.

Many colleges and universities fill their digital marketing channels with content that merely echoes what everybody else is saying.

Everybody has content on finding and securing financial aid. Everyone’s got a freshman’s guide to college life.

And while you should have content on these topics, you’ve got to find other angles, stories, and opinions to express in order to differentiate you from your competitors.

Crossroads Bible College uses gated content to increase their social media marketing effectiveness.One great example is how Crossroads Bible College president, Dr. Charles Ware, sets his college apart by publishing content that educates their audience on the concepts of inter-racial reconciliation and urban ministry.

Since the school is centered on preparing ministry leaders for multiethnic, urban settings, they know their audience is asking these kinds of deep questions – and they’re not likely to find this content at any other college website.

Blunder #3: Publishing content in just one form.

This social media marketing misstep is a common ailment because of the universal fact that most higher education marketers cut their teeth in one area of content creation.

This can become a blind spot as each marketer tends to stay within their comfort zone instead of branching out into new media in their social media marketing.

Marketers with a background in graphic design will be biased towards imagery and design.

Those with writing in their background will tend to stick with blogging.

Others with a publishing background often become fixated on their magazine to the detriment of other strategies like email marketing, website, and video content.

It’s important to surround yourself with artists and creators of different fields so that you publish content across all marketing channels and media.

Blunder #4: Publishing content when the audience isn’t looking for it.

Distributing financial aid guides in May or offering tips on finding jobs in September makes no sense. While the topics are relevant, the timing is off, which kills the effectiveness of the content.

Use an editorial calendar that’s centered on the rhythms and events in your audience’s life to strategically publish your content when your audience is asking the question.

Blunder #5: Missing opportunities to speak out on current events.

Being a private, small institution has incredible advantages, and one of them is that you can more easily leverage the buzz generated around current events than a large, public institution.

In a Google Hangout for higher ed marketers, ExpertFile’s CEO, Peter Evans, shares how newsjacking is uniquely suited to smaller institutions that can form a message around current events quickly enough to be effective.

“[Newsjacking] favors the fast, not the big.”

Keep your eye on the current events happening in the areas your audience cares about, and when something notable occurs, publish your institution’s thoughts on the matter in a way that highlights the values you want to shine through in your messaging. Interview your on-campus experts on the topic and then publish quotes from them on the matter.

This YouTube video on how Arby’s newsjacked the Grammy’s and Pharell’s hat is an excellent example of how a brand can use current events to increase their brand awareness.

A Word of Caution

Don’t assign an essay to your resident expert on the topic – or you’ll be waiting until next semester for their polished and well-researched response.

By then, it’ll be too late.

Blunder #6: Publishing content… whenever.

Publishing content regularly and frequently is extremely important to building brand authority and encouraging repeat visits. However, too many times, higher ed websites publish new content only when they finally get around to it.

This was a critical blunder I made for some time, and the results I was seeing were mediocre.

But once I figured out how to get my content created and out the door on schedule most of the time, I saw my traffic explode.

And that’s when my prospects really started to pick up.

Infrequent posts can happen when:

  1. There’s no clear marketing strategy,
  2. There’s insufficient staff assigned to the marketing strategy,
  3. Staff members are not given deadlines,
  4. There’s an unrealistic publishing schedule, or
  5. Marketing is not taken seriously and requests for quotes, stories, or other content is ignored or delayed.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to getting content out on time every time. Meeting publishing deadlines is all about leadership, team building, and organizational culture.

Aim to improve your publishing frequency and regularity. Perfection isn’t required for results, just improvement.

Blunder #7: Distributing content through channels your audience doesn’t use.

Some marketers refuse to go into certain social media channels because they just don’t know enough about them. And as a result, they’re missing all the traffic they could be getting with that piece.

Survey your audiences to see which publications they read, which social media platforms they use, and how they consume (or wish to consume) your content.

Research new marketing channels and learn how to leverage them properly if your audience is there.

Blunder #8: Relying solely on organic reach.

Perhaps the saddest truth of our century is that many major social media platforms do not publish your posts to all of your followers. To expand the reach of your posts, you have to pay for it.

Believe me, I get it.

After spending the time, sweat, tears, and money into an amazing piece of content, it feels like rubbing salt into a wound to have to pay for it to get to all of those followers that you worked so hard to get, but…

Paid social media advertising is here to stay, so you need a budget.

To be successful at social media marketing, you must have a budget for paid social media advertising.

It doesn’t have to be outlandish – or as gigantic as Coca-Cola’s marketing budget – but you need to put some skin in the game to get the results that you need.

Blunder #9: Keeping your platform to yourself.

Today’s information age is founded on and expanded through generosity. The more you share, the more you get back.

Social media is built from the ground up on this concept of sharing and interaction.

But a lot of higher education social media channels don’t seem to understand this, preferring to keep their social media walls reserved for their own content and announcements.

But opening up your wall to others by retweeting and sharing their posts – when their content is relevant to your audience – has numerous benefits:

  1. You’ll get new visitors to your site who’ll be exposed to your content because you shared their friend’s content,
  2. You’ll increase your brand awareness,
  3. You’ll be able to join existing conversations using the power of hashtags, and
  4. You’ll show the generosity of your college or university as it shares its platform.

Another word of caution: Make sure that the content you share or retweet is consistent with your brand’s messaging, and that the author of the content is a trustworthy source.

Blunder #10: Keeping to yourself.

Social media is supposed to be social! Social media users (even you!) love to see when friends not only see their posts, but leave thoughtful comments.

Yet knowing all of that, too many college and university marketers say absolutely nothing in response to their followers posts. Or, if they do, it’s too generic and robotic.

The secret to being social is to comment quickly and genuinely to your followers’ posts and to their comments on your posts.

Another great trick is to ask an open-ended question after sharing your thoughts with your followers to encourage an ongoing dialogue with your audience.

I think the most infuriating thing about these social media blunders is that it’s too easy to make them!

It happens to the best of us. We’re busy. We’re distracted. We’ve got other things we’re thinking about.

But you can’t afford to let these all-too-common social media blunders kill your social media marketing results.

If you need help spotting and solving these blunders in your marketing efforts, having an objective expert in your corner can help you get your social media investment working for you.

Get ahold of us today for a free digital marketing audit!

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Virtual Reality in Education – Where Are We and What’s Next?

Virtual Reality in Education – Where Are We and What’s Next? Image Attribution Not long ago, virtual reality was limited to science fiction. Then it became a stable of video games. Now virtual reality is moving into our daily lives. Recently the domain of the…

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