Social media is a necessity of doing business today, and contrary to what some might believe, it takes a deep knowledge of content strategy, the buyer’s journey and how to build relationships that matter, to create a program that truly does have business impact. Whether you are an enterprise organization or a small business, or whether you are in retail or you are a small government organization, social media gives you a direct line of communication that allows you to reach audiences of all types, including both prospective and actual customers. In fact, through these channels, you have the ability to speak directly to people who live along every stage of the buyer’s journey, allowing you to reach anonymous audiences and convert them to known prospects, as well as contributing to the acceleration of known prospects into sales opportunities and also in growing current customers into raving fans.

However, it’s this core understanding of how social media relates to the buyer’s journey where most organizations fall short. It’s not uncommon to see companies overusing their own company or product-related hashtags, instead of using the hashtags that will most effectively reach the target audience according to where they reside within the buyer’s journey. Doing so, will help your organization target your social posts more strategically for optimal audience engagement.

Use broad industry or top of the funnel conversation hashtags to reach new audiencesSocial media presents ideal channels for economically and efficiently reaching new audiences, or people who your business may not have engaged with previously. Typically, organizations will try to entice these unknown audiences with top of the funnel content, and this same concept should apply to social conversations and associated hashtags. Ironically, this applies to IRL situations also — when meeting new people, don’t start off by talking about yourself. Instead, talk about what others are already talking about. The goal is to tie into broader, more audience relevant conversations at this stage, so use hashtags that will pull you into those conversations. For example, at Microsoft, if we’re trying to attract potential new customers for any of our analytics products, we would target our social posts with hashtags like #bigdata, #dataviz or #analytics instead of coming on strong with our own product-centric hashtags like #SQLServer or #PowerBI. In fact, if we only used our own product and company hashtags, very few people who aren’t already either followers of our handles on social media or somewhat familiar with our products would even see these posts. To reach people who are at the early stages of the buyer’s journey, organizations must align messaging and hashtags with the conversations that their potential audiences are having at this stage in their journey. Use your organization’s product or company focused hashtags to reach audiences who are already considering your company or products, or those who are already your customersUse of your specific company or product hashtags will no doubt reach audiences who are already familiar with or are using your products. After all, to receive these social posts, they must either already be a follower of your company’s handles, or if not, they would likely have been searching for one of these specific hashtags to begin with. So, in the example mentioned above, if you’re looking to promote a great whitepaper that discusses the benefits of #SQLServer, you would want to target somebody who is already aware of what that is by including a product specific hashtag in your post. Likewise, these company-specific hashtags are often searched by current customers as well, therefore these are the hashtags to use when the objective is to turn customers into true fans of the product. In general, to reach people who are in the mid to latter stages of the buyer’s journey, organizations must align content and hashtags with those lower funnel types of conversations that these potential audiences are having. Use a combination of broad industry or conversation type hashtags with product or company specific hashtags to move audiences who are more in the awareness top of the funnel stage into to the lower consideration stagesBy using a mix of higher conversation level hashtags along with the more product or company specific hashtags, you can use social posts to move your potential audience downward in the buyer’s funnel. This hybrid approach allows you to capture the attention of those who may not be aware of your business or organization by tying into higher level conversations while at the same time using your more company specific hashtags to drive awareness of the lower funnel conversations in which those hashtags are principally used. The trick here is to align the content that you are promoting with these goals, and to present the right sort of information to those who are ready to progress into the known prospect and opportunity nurture phases of the buyer’s journey.Use hashtags popular among followers of competitors, or hashtags that align to competitors’ products or services to gain visibility among competitors’ audiencesSticking to the same analytics example, Microsoft has several large competitors in the data analytics space, and there are of course instances when we may have some interesting content or messaging to deliver to those who are using one of these competitive products. By using a hashtag that is popular or even specific to our competitor’s products or services we can target audiences who are interested in or using those products to get information or messaging in front of them that we believe would be highly relevant, for example content such as a third-party comparative reports, etc.

When using competitors’ hashtags, of course, it’s important not to overuse. In fact, companies must be even more thoughtful here to ensure that any posts that leverage these hashtags follow principles of competitive best practices, similar to the approaches taken in advertising. Posts should be factual and without emotional, abstaining from unsubstantiated claims and absolutes. Remember, use of these posts will put you square in front of potentially hostile audiences and your competitors themselves, so used sparingly, wisely and respectfully, these may offer new avenues to reach this unique audience.


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