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Hashtags might be a great way to get some conversation going around the online watercooler – if there is such a thing – but it’s easy to forget they’re a public thing, open to anyone who wants to join the discourse on Twitter.

While they might have seemed like a good idea to the marketing departments over at JP Morgan and for the New York City Police Department, they also drew a lot of negative sentiment and turned into the perfect examples of how not to use hashtags.

But that doesn’t mean social media marketers should fear them, according to a post over at Ad Age. On a day when hashtag is being added to the official Scrabble dictionary, we thought it prudent to provide a rundown of tips for marketers looking to make use of hashtags to jumpstart productive conversations.

1. Don’t make your campaign a single word and call that a hashtag.
When marketers go to pick a hashtag that will fit their campaign, it’s all too tempting to just throw a hashtag in front of the words or phrase they’ve chosen for that campaign. But that’s the wrong approach – most Twitter users are not going to take the time to understand what the hashtag is about. Instead, they’ll most likely have a visceral reaction to what it says, and they may start using the hashtag to derail the conversation.

What may be more handy is to create a hashtag that’s based on a “simple premise that everyone can immediately understand,” writes Michael Leis for Ad Age. He points to the example of cardstore.com, which launched a video about appreciating our mothers alongside the hashtag #worldstoughestjob.

2. Use the hashtags that are already out there.
Instead of inventing new hashtags, what may be even more effective would be tapping into the hashtags that already exist – after all, if marketers are hoping to reach a certain community, the best way to do that is to be part of that community and to use the hashtags they’re using.

However, there’s a caveat to that. Leveraging an existing hashtag doesn’t always work if it’s part of an attempt to advertise a product, and it can alienate people. That’s especially true for very small, niche communities who may not want all of the extra attention online.

3. Stay up to date with a hashtag, once you’ve started using it.
To keep social media campaigns relevant, marketers need to keep working with hashtags to give the audience some payoff. That’s when social becomes relevant and becomes a conversation that quickly scales out.

Some ways to keep a hashtag fresh include taking the audience’s tweets and posts and making them into new images, or making a video montage of all of the best tweets and posts. People usually like seeing their content being used and they find it flattering, and it’s easy for users to search for it and to share it. The best part is the brand makes their efforts more about people, rather than about just selling a product.

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