Hashtagging Basics: Inject Your Race into the Conversation

By: Matt Reno

Social media should be part of any race director's marketing strategy. Unfortunately, many RDs just aren't comfortable managing a page. While I can't in one post provide solutions to all your social media roadblocks, I do want to help by giving an overview of one of social media's most powerful tools: the hashtag.

If you already know about and use hashtags, scroll down for some best practices. If you're wondering "What the heck is a hashtag?" it's this: #. You may know it as the pound sign or the number sign, but since its popularization by Twitter (though it works on pretty much any social network), this little symbol has taken on a new name and a whole new purpose. Place the # in front of a word or phrase within your post, and suddenly that word or phrase becomes a link. Click it, and you'll see other posts also containing that hashtag.

What's the point? Well, when posts from anywhere in the world are organized around a central topic, it creates a larger conversation. Turn a piece of your text into a link, and your post becomes part of that conversation. Tag a post with #marathon, and anyone scrolling through that tag's feed can see your contribution. Hopefully, they'll find it interesting enough to click your profile for more. Hashtags let you inject yourself into a conversation so that your message is seen not just by your followers but also by people who may not have otherwise found you.

So now you're familiar with hashtags. Time to start packing as many as possible into every post, right? Wrong. Too many people treat hashtags like a get-followed-quick scheme, loading so many into a post that the main message is buried in a sea of links. It looks spammy and desperate. Building a social following quickly is great, but it's important to do it naturally through a healthy mix of strategy and genuineness.

Don't overdo it. Twitter officially advises users to observe a two-tag limit. Instagram doesn't have Twitter's 140-character limit, and users tend to have more tolerance for hashtag abundance. Facebook now allows hashtags, but users aren't yet adopting the feature like they are elsewhere. Make sure you're comfortable with whichever site you're using and pay attention to the unwritten rules of hashtagging unique to each social platform.

Use hashtags that make sense within your post. I was recently scrolling through the #Kentucky hashtag on Instagram and saw a picture that looked way out of place. It turned out some spammer had tagged the post with the names of about half the states in the country. Why would I follow an account that basically lied its way into a conversation and distracted me from my original purpose of viewing Kentucky-related posts?

The best way to use hashtags naturally is to make them part of your message rather than an aside. Something like "Join us in November for the #ThoroughbredClassic 5K in #Lexington" flows well and saves space. This isn't always possible - when I post about a Lexington race, I'll use the #runlex tag - but trying to slip in hashtags whenever possible makes your posts more natural and engaging.

Which hashtags should you be using to get your race noticed? That will be different for every race. Your best bet is to be active on your social network and figure out which relevant tags are being used in your local running community. You can also create your own hashtag with your race's name. Include it in posts and encourage others to do the same. Building a social following takes time and creativity. Play around, figure out what works best for your race, and happy hashtagging!

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