This article is taken from AusRegistry’s industry magazine, Behind the Dot: State of the .au Domain. Click through to read more from this edition.

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It is widely believed that social media has had a democratising effect on the marketing business. No longer is branding conducted solely through one-way channels and traditional advertising alone – now organisations are conducting conversations every minute of every day with their customers, supporters and detractors alike.

At the same time, social media allows organisations of all sizes to engage in meaningful marketing activities regardless of budget. For many who use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more in their daily lives, extending this usage to a business scenario is not a huge stretch.

The Sensis Social Media Report 2015 found that 24 percent of those surveyed use social networking sites to follow or find out about particular brands or businesses in general, and that half of those who research products and services on social media ended up making that purchase.

So how can small to medium enterprises ensure they’re capitalising on this opportunity and make the most of social media for their business?

There’s a hashtag for that

Hashtags can be a valuable tool to ensure your content is reaching the right audiences and being included in the right audiences. In particular, hashtags allow your posts to be seen by people who don’t necessarily follow your account.

Placing the ‘hash’ or ‘pound’ sign in front of a word or phrase turns it into a clickable category heading, allowing social media users to easily search for other content that contains the same hashtag. For example, an article on digital marketing can find a whole new audience by categorising it under #marketing, #digital or even #digitalmarketing.

Sales Force Marketing Cloud conducted a statistical review for effective tweeting and found that “tweets with hashtags receive two times more engagement than those without hashtags.”

Including a relevant hashtag in each post can provide small to medium businesses with a significant boost to their social media marketing efforts and take advantage of the broader network of potential customers social networking provides.

How to optimise your domain name for social media

Demonstrate trust

The annual .au survey has consistently shown that Australians trust domain names under .au. As much as any other digital forum, social media can be subject to spam and malicious content. Using a .au domain name as your call to action shows your followers that you’re a local Australian business and gives some peace of mind that the link is safe to click.

URL shortening

Particularly on the character-controlled platform of Twitter, URL shorteners are often built into the user interface to allow you to trim long, complex web addresses into shortened, generic versions. However, often these are done through URL shortening tools such as Bit.ly, returning a link that looks something like ‘bit.ly/20TPUxm’ (I promise this example is safe to click!).

Using these shorteners introduces a risk to your posts. They remove your brand and any identifying information from the link, meaning followers can’t ascertain any information about the website from the URL and may be hesitant to click on it. A .au domain name however includes your brand and the seal of authenticity in the ‘.au’ extension.

An interesting illustration of URL shorteners can be found with our own Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. In his tweets, Mr Turnbull uses the URL shortener ‘aus.pm’ to represent ‘Australian Prime Minister’ and to avoid the lengthier www.pm.gov.au address. However, .pm is actually the country code domain name of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France. If for example the current .au Names Panel decides to open up .au domain name registrations at the second level, there could be an opportunity for Australian URL shorteners including a short phrase and a .au extension. It would great to see our Prime Minister use our country’s own extension with something like ‘pm.au’.

Hashtags and domains: a perfect marketing match

Despite its ability to disrupt some traditional advertising activities and provide an accessible marketing channel to businesses of all sizes, social media is by no means a silver bullet. Neither can it afford to work in isolation.

Domain names remain an integral part of any marketing campaign – online or off. A domain name is the signifier of an organisation’s online presence, providing a one-stop-shop source for information about their products or services. It is the place all advertising leads and social media followers get sent once their attention has been caught by a marketing campaign.

In social media, usually a domain name is your call to action. Bringing more attention to it through the clever use of hashtags and then ensuring that domain is recognisable, trustworthy or creative is a perfect combination to ensure you’re driving traffic to your website.

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Read more about .au domain names in the marketing mix in edition 7 of Behind the Dot: State of the .au Domain.