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All About Hashtags

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What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a word, abbreviation, or combination of words written together without a space that begins with a # symbol. That’s the short answer.

But that doesn’t really help you without knowing what you can do with them and why you should use them in the first place. And that is what this blog is all about.

A brief history

On August 23, 2007, Chris Messina introduced the idea of hashtags on Twitter to group specific messages on the same topic by using the ‘#’ symbol (hash, pound, or hash).

On social media, anything beginning with a # sign is a hyperlink to posts about this topic. It’s a way to label and categorize social media posts. A hashtag is a term on which you search and are found. And they are everywhere on social media. Hashtags are also often used to give extra meaning to a post in the same way we use emojis – #happy, #soexcited, #YouGetTheIdea.

Hashtags are clickable as well as searchable. When you click on one, you will be directed to content on this specific topic. Alternatively, if you want to be found by those who are searching for specific terms, you can include hashtags in your message to broaden your reach.

Anatomy of a hashtag

A hashtag always begins with a pound sign ‘#’ followed by letters, numbers, and underscores (_). Special characters are not allowed. However, Instagram lets you use emojis.

All parts of a hashtag must be written consecutively. As soon as there is a space, the hashtag ends. If you mean #socialmedia and write #social media, only “#social” is clickable, “media” is not. It doesn’t matter whether or not you use capital letters; the hashtag remains the same. There is no difference between #SocialMedia and #socialmedia. But using caps at the start of each word in longer hashtags can make them easier to read. #makeyourhashtagseasiertoread vs #MakeYourHashtagsEasierToRead.

Hashtags are best kept short and simple. Spelling is critical.

What's the difference between @ and #?

It may seem confusing, but it’s actually quite simple.

  • # is a keyword that you can find and be found on.
  • @ is used on social media to specifically mention another account in your tweet or post. This is also called a mention or a tag. You can name another person or company by typing the username immediately after the @, and like hashtags, no spaces. Each mention starts with an @, so if you were mentioning me on Instagram, you would use @rselander. The tagged person will automatically receive a notification via the system that someone has used tagged/mentioned them in a message.

When you mention or tag a person, you directly involve them in your post, which can have some value. This increases the chance that the person will also do something with this post. For example, they might repost to their audience, like, share, comment, follow, or start a conversation with you. If the is someone whose work you like, or maybe who you heard speak at an event, and possibly want to partner with, this can be a great way to engage. But be careful, it can be easy to overdo it, and that can work against you.

Why use hashtags on social media

Today, it seems everyone uses multiple hashtags on their posts, but why? When social media is part of your online marketing strategy, hashtags can help you achieve your goals more effectively.

The four most important benefits:

More interaction such as likes, comments, and shares

People interested in a particular topic may search for the hashtags that apply to it. So if you use those EXACT hashtags yourself, there is a chance that they will see your content, respond and share it with others.

Getting the attention of your target audience

Social media is popular for the simple reason that people want to belong and stay informed. Whether it’s handy selfie tips, the best fitness motivation, or cookie recipes. Use the hashtags that your ideal customer is searching for and perhaps using. You not only increase your reach but also the chance that you will get a new follower.

Authority and brand awareness

Social media is popular for the simple reason that people want to belong and stay informed. Whether it’s handy selfie tips, the best fitness motivation, or cookie recipes. Use the hashtags that your ideal customer is searching for and perhaps using. You not only increase your reach but also the chance that you will get a new follower.

Hashtags provide branding opportunities

You can launch your own hashtag(s) specifically for your brand. It is a way for customers to interact with a brand. Sometimes customers make their own as well, called user-generated content. Not sure who created #unicornfrappucino to use when posting pics of Starbucks Unicorn Frappucino, but the hashtag has 150,997 posts. Anyone interested in that drink can easily connect with others fans as well as the brand itself.

Hashtags are also great to use during a live or recorded broadcast event. Have a sports brand? Hashtag and post during games. Cooking, decorating, travel? Live Tweet, mention, and hashtag during or right after the show airs. Perfect ways to get involved in the conversation.

How should you use a hashtag?

By using a hashtag, you are telling people, “this is what this message is about.” So, it helps you reach people who do not yet follow your account. BUT, you must use the right hashtags.

Use hashtags that fit your company, photo, video, or other content and the target group you want to reach.

How many hashtags can you use?

Writing a good message is essential, and hashtags can give the right value to your message. So while I am using the example of Instagram, the same basic rules apply elsewhere.

To increase reach, many accounts on Instagram use the maximum limit of 30 hashtags. However, other platforms have different limits. So there is no “ideal number,” but you should use at least two of them. Otherwise, you may not be found, and the number of likes or comments will also be disappointing.

Different types of hashtags

Wait! What?? Aren’t they all the same? Well, yes and no. Their primary function is the same, but their purposes may differ.

Branded hashtags are about your company. Use these so you can be found quickly and people can get in touch with you more easily. Think, for example, of #nike, #coachella, or #unicornfrappucino. Hashtags here are specific. You probably know at a glance what companies or events they refer to.

High-reach hashtags have tons of posts. For example, on Instagram, #sneakers has almost 46 million posts. #music has 376 million. #coffee has 143 million. If you use these types of hashtags, you will not stand out. In fact, your post will most likely end up at the bottom of the page as soon as you’ve posted it, and more than likely, nobody will see it.

Lower reach hashtags are especially interesting if you’re starting out on Instagram and don’t have thousands of followers yet. These are hashtags that have between 1,000 and 100,000 posts. By clicking on the magnifying glass in your app and going to tags, you can type a term and see exactly how many posts there are with that tag. On a desktop, you do this in the search field at the top of the page.

Content hashtags are hashtags related to your industry. They are not trending or popular per se but are frequently used to benefit your posts’ search engine optimization (SEO).

Combining hashtags for more engagement

If you still aren’t sure about which kind of hashtags you can best use, the simple answer is: make a combination of different terms on which you want to be found.

If you only choose hashtags with a large reach, your message will be buried. You want to find tags that are not that big yet, but big enough to have reach. You then combine these with content hashtags and possibly tags for your brand. My advice is to use them like this:

  • 10 hashtags to use on Instagram with a reach of 1k-100k
  • 15 hashtags with a range of 100k-500k
  • 5 hashtags with a reach of 500k or more

Before you run out and choose your hashtags, it’s essential to understand the etiquette of the platforms you will be on. On Instagram, it’s ok to fill it up with 30 hashtags. On Twitter, you want to keep it to about two. Do your research and see what the standard practices are. They may or may not change over time. What’s allowed by the platform isn’t necessarily appreciated by the community.

Do your research!

Be sure to research the hashtags themselves. What kind of content is associated with them? For example, after the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado, #Auroroa was trending. A clothing boutique tweeted, “Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ;)” They ended up deleting the tweet and issuing an apology. That could have been avoided had they done a quick check to see why #Aurora was trending.

In addition, hashtags do not always have to be in English. So, if your audience speaks Spanish, go with Spanish hashtags.

When you start out, you may not have the best hashtags, but you can refine and hone them as you go.

Where should you place them?

You can use hashtags almost anywhere on Instagram: in your bio, stories, posts, or comments. For a post, both those in your caption and ones you include in comments count towards the Instagram algorithm. However, hashtags that others add in response to your post do not count. That means nobody can sabotage your post by filling comments with unrelated hashtags.

Many people place their hashtags after the main text, with enough white space to not distract from the content. That increases the chance that visitors will actually read the text.

Every social media platform uses hashtags differently, and if you’ve spent any time on social media, you have probably noticed that they have their differences. For example, LinkedIn is different from Facebook, which is very different from Instagram. The differences are in the type of post, tone, image format, audience, purpose, and how hashtags work.

Unlike Instagram, only use one or two hashtags with a tweet. The best hashtags for Twitter describe what the tweet is about. They can also be used as part of an ongoing discussion like a trending topic, current event, television program, etc.

It’s best to use one or two hashtags on Facebook. More hashtags are often seen as hashtag spamming. Hashtags on Facebook have much less interaction and aren’t used as much as on other platforms.
Be careful if you share a post from Instagram on Facebook. Those 30 hashtags can work against you.

Best to use hashtags that are both keywords for your business but also closely fit your content. Using hashtags, you reach your existing LinkedIn network and reach people interested in specific topics. This helps you ensure that you make more impact with your content.

Hashtags for Pins go in the description. It is a good idea to place them at the end, so your description remains exciting and easy to read. Remember, hashtags are clickable, and clicks provide an opportunity to go elsewhere. While you can include up to 20 hashtags on a Pin, it’s best to test things out and see what works best for your audience and goals.

A great hashtag strategy starts with a plan

Make a list of hashtags you often use, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. But also make sure to update that list every month or two. Know what hashtags you are using and why. You might change your hashtags a bit for different types of posts. For example, a nutritionist that posts about a healthy dessert would want to include a healthy dessert-related hashtag they would not use for a healthy breakfast post. Keep your hashtags in a Word doc, notes, or somewhere you can easily access them, and copy and paste them in your posts. That will make sure everything is spelled correctly.

Be sure to include hashtags in your social media marketing strategy. Properly using hashtags can lead to more reach, more engagement, and more followers. And those things can lead to more customers. And who doesn’t want that?