Thinking about starting a hashtag campaign as part of your next marketing effort? Before you start your campaign, carefully consider your hashtag choice. A good hashtag choice could lead to a viral conversation, build brand awareness, and earn you new followers; a bad choice could spell branding disaster. Here are five tips for choosing the perfect hashtag.

1. Plug into an existing hashtag.

A lot of people want to start their own hashtag trends. For example, you might want to start a trend around your brand or you might want to start a trend to promote a particular marketing campaign you’re deploying for your business. Creating your own hashtag is fine. However, you can leverage your posts / tweets and simultaneously build interest in your new hashtag by first plugging into an existing hashtag.

Perhaps your business specializes in carnivorous orchids and you want to build buzz and conversation around your very own hashtag, #CarniOrch. However, since no one has ever heard of your carnivorous orchid company, no one but you is likely to be using the #CarniOrch hashtag at the beginning. Use a tool like’s hashtag search and finder to find trending hashtags relevant to carnivorous plants and orchids. A little research might lead to a tweet like this:

Did you know carnivorous orchids eat gnats? #CarniOrch #botany

Not only are you using your own hashtag, you’re also plugging into existing conversations with people who might have a natural interest in your brand.

2. Two is company; three is a crowd.

It’s ok to use more than one hashtag, as demonstrated in the example given above. However, when you start using three hashtags or more, you’re starting to get into hashtag spam and you’re going to annoy people. Stick with one to two hashtags; more than that will make you look like a teenage girl posting a selfie who’s adding as many hashtags as she can think of for the sake of garnering attention.

3. Use it but don’t abuse it.

On a similar note, don’t spam a hashtag with fifty gazillion tweets or posts per day. You’re trying to be a part of the conversation, not make it #AllAboutMe.

4. If you want people to use your unique hashtag, give them a good reason.

Are you running a hashtag campaign to promote a new product, build brand awareness, or get new followers? It is wise to incentivize your campaign; otherwise, you could invite hashtag #EpicFail, the way that McDonald’s did with their poorly executed hashtag campaign of 2012.

For a better example of how to succeed with a food-related hashtag campaign, consider Quaker’s #QuakerUp campaign. Quaker offered a $50 NFL Shop gift card to families who told them how they stayed active and fit. This is a simple, clear incentive that will generate positive hashtag chatter.

The incentive doesn’t need to be monetary. For instance, you could try an incentive like this one:

What should we name our new species of carnivorous orchid? Best tweet gets a plant species named after it! #CarniOrch

After money, the other thing people want most is recognition.

5. When using an existing hashtag, make sure it’s relevant to the conversation.

Don’t use a hashtag without first researching how people are currently using it. Just picking out the most popular trending hashtag and sticking it at the end of your tweet isn’t going to cut it. A trending hashtag is great if it’s relevant to the message you want to broadcast, but if you misuse a hashtag, you will definitely turn people off.

An oft-cited example of this hashtag misuse is the way Kenneth Cole used the #Cairo hashtag in the midst of the revolution in Egypt a few years ago. Making a joke about how all the hubbub was related to the new spring fashion line, the company’s joke didn’t just fall flat; it was seen as downright offensive.

Remember that hashtags are all about conversations. If you were at a party and you heard two people talking about the zoo, you wouldn’t butt in and start telling them all about your recent African safari. That would be considered rude and self-centered. Instead, if you had something to say, you would make it about the zoo. Later, if the conversation naturally drifted in the direction of safaris, you could bring up your recent trip to Africa.

The rule of thumb here is that you wouldn’t be rude in a conversation in real life, so you shouldn’t be rude in a hashtag conversation, either.

Summary: Combine Unique with Existing, Curious with Conversational

To sum it up, don’t just use a hashtag without putting any thought into it. Make your own hashtag up if you like, but plug into existing conversations, too, in order to reach out to a broader audience. When you use an existing hashtag, however, be careful how you use it. Pick something that’s relevant to what you want to say and don’t hog the conversation.

Do you have your own tips for creating a successful hashtag campaign? Share them in the comments section below.

Read more: