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How relevant is the hashtag, anyway?

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Is #takeouttuesday really going to boost your social media efforts? / Thomas Pajot © 123RF.com

#champagne #brunch #coffeeanddoughnuts…There’s no denying the hashtag has become part of the global lexicon. But hashtags are much more than just nods to trends; they can also be deployed as extremely effective marketing tools.

Kiana Montgomery, publicist and content creator with Sachs Media in Orlando, Florida, says hashtags allow users to identify content relevant to a topic. She emphasizes originality as a way to reach the maximum audience. “If you use [a tag] that has 100,000 [posts] or more, people who come up in the search first are those who have the most followers,” she explains. That leaves little room for independents to grow their followers and, in turn, their brand.

Julie Howsmon, director of content and digital marketing for Gravity Haus in Breckenridge and Vail, agrees, saying she rarely uses hashtags with less than 1,000 users or more than 500,000. Howsmon also reminds restaurants to look at their analytics. “That will tell you how many times a post was seen from a [specific] hashtag,” she says. (This data can be found in the “Profile” section of business accounts under “Insights.”) 

Howsmon relies on three cardinal rules: She makes sure hashtags are relevant to the photo she’s posting; she ensures they’re what she wants to be found for; and she adds localization—not just the geographic location, but also tags that point to a specific place or lifestyle, like #gobreck, #exploresummit, or #vaillive. Montgomery agrees that this helps both residents and visitors find you. 

There are many local hashtags that trend differently. We target different ones on different days and times. Local discovery is huge for us, so we always research which local tags are trending when we can.

Wenter Shyu, Third Culture Baker

At Third Culture Bakery in Aurora, which also has a location in Berkeley, California and 32,000-plus followers on Instagram, co-owner Wenter Shyu has spent a lot of time developing a certain set of hashtags. They vary depending on which location he’s posting about, and whether the post is food, beverage, trend, or people focused. As with most things, it comes down to knowing your customer—or would-be guest. “There are many local hashtags that trend differently. We target different ones on different days and times,” he says. “Local discovery is huge for us, so we always research which local tags are trending when we can.”

Randy Hlavac, lecturer at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, suggests operators craft original hashtags for their brands and set up contests surrounding them. Followers are then encouraged to use the tag, with a lucky winner receiving a free item in return. Hlavac also recommends mixing in generic food tags to double your chances that more people will find you.

As for where to put hashtags, Howsmon says adding them right after your post increases the chances of being ranked higher in Instagram’s algorithm. Best practices also dictate you click through the hashtags and begin engaging with users. “If you’re using the right ones, you’re engaging with those who are like-minded and you’ll possibly generate a new follower,” she says. And that, of course, is the ultimate goal.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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