There's something sexy about using hashtags. Not only do they convey you possess a certain amount of social-media savviness, the right keyword or phrase tacked after the pound sign (#) helps other people interested in the same topic find your post.

For organizations, however, they can be a tricky thing. As evidence, Carol Han, partner of the New York digital media agency CA Creative, points to the NYPD's disastrous #myNYPD campaign earlier this year. While the hashtag was meant to entice people to share friendly photos of cops, Twitter users hijacked the campaign and posted images of seeming police brutality instead.

To avoid a similar fate, keep a few things in mind, she says.

Use hashtags strategically.

In other words, don't start using one just because it happens to be trending. Is it really appropriate for your brand?

And if you're creating a new hashtag it should be catchy, easy to remember and not too long. You also shouldn't dilute a campaign with too many hashtags. It's better to stick with one excellent hashtag you can promote across all the media you use.

Being strategic also means putting some thought into who manages your social media presence. Don't assume your intern or whoever in the office happens to be young or most adept with a smartphone is the best person to fill this role.

"[In the past] a lot of brands were thinking that they could just assign social media to someone junior and inexperienced on their team, which tends to lead to mistakes that can get really public and really embarrassing very quickly," Han says.

Have a contingency plan in place.

You can't know for certain what will happen when you put yourself or your brand out there on social media. How will you handle unexpected responses to the hashtag you're using?

Negative feedback doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, the NYPD reacted pretty well, Han says.

"They really just sort of approached it as a 'This is an opportunity for us to get the opinions of our community' instead of becoming defensive," she says. "I think that the worst thing you can do if you receive negative feedback online is to become defensive and start responding to people in [a] vitriolic way. I think that that will very drastically escalate the situation and make it even worse."

Push hashtags for events.

Whether you're launching something, hosting an event or otherwise undertaking a noteworthy endeavor hashtags are a fantastic way to foster public engagement.

For example, CA Creative recently helped a fashion client host a swanky dinner in downtown Los Angeles for 40 bloggers who received gifts including masks and headpieces that invited the taking of photos and selfies. Printed materials at the tables encouraged guests to use a special hashtag when posting their images on social networks.

"Notifying them to use the hashtag and pushing it out on our own social channels created this buzz, where it became a really fun collection of images from the dinner that people could instantaneously access by clicking on that hashtag," Han says. "We brought something that was initially a very offline event and we brought that into the online space."

Published on: Jul 1, 2014