Hashtags: What are they and how do you use them?
If you haven’t heard, hashtags are a major feature in the social media world. In fact, the word “hashtag” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2010, and the Scrabble dictionary in 2014. That makes it a pretty big deal.
However if you’re a bit of a social media newbie, hashtags may seem confusing, and perhaps even a little unnecessary. But they play an integral role in how we communicate online, and it’s important for us to understand why they’re useful and how to use them properly.
So, what is a hashtag?
A hashtag is a label or topic for content. It helps organise content on social media sites into categories to make it easier for those interested in a certain topic, to quickly find all content branded with the same topic - or hashtag.
A fan of Game of Thrones? A simple hashtag search for #gameofthrones on a social media site and you’ll be presented with all the content related to the epic TV show.
The origin of hashtags began with Twitter, but is now widely used on other social platforms, including Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and now recently, YouTube.
Why use hashtags?
There are a number of reasons why you should be using hashtags for your business.
1. They help you get found by your target audience
Many people do research by searching specific hashtags on social media sites. By using relevant hashtags that are of interest to your target audience, you can increase your chances of being found.
2. They can improve post engagement
According to research from Sprout Social and Buddy Media, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6% more engagement than those without, and tweets with hashtags receive twice as much engagement than those that don’t.
3. They become links to search queries
While someone might click your hashtag that takes them to a search query, at the same time, that search query is gaining a lot more views, and will lead more people to view your post.
4. Hashtags can be used for humour
A hashtag is the social media equivalent of a rimshot. You know, that ‘badum-CHING’ thing they do on a drum after a joke?
While these kinds of hashtags don’t particularly help you get found on social media, it can certainly show your personality, and help engage your audience.
How do you use hashtags?
To add a hashtag on a social post is really as simple as adding the ‘#’ sign in front of a single word or phrase, but as easy as it may seem, there are a few rules to using hashtags correctly.
1. No spaces, or punctuation in a hashtag, or they won’t work properly.
2. Don’t try to string too many words together with a single hashtag, otherwise #itbecomestoohardtoread
3. On most networks, if you use a hashtag on a public account, anyone who does a search for the hashtag can find your post.
4. Avoid #spamming #your #posts #with #too #many #hashtags. You don’t want to overuse hashtags in a single post, or add them to every word. Research done by TrackMaven found that posts with a maximum of 5 hashtags received the most engagement.
5. Keep your hashtags relevant! Don’t fall into the gimmick of trying to grab attention by using irrelevant tags. Annoying people with a mismatch of content won’t do you any favours.
7. Before selecting your hashtags, take note of how many posts are tagged with it. Instagram allows you to do this by using their ‘search > tag’ function. Type in a keyword that’s relevant to your brand, and Instagram will give you a list of all the hashtags with that keyword, as well as a number of posts with it.
A large number of posts may mean lots of people are following that hashtag, but it also means there’s a ton of content tagged with it and your posts may get lost. Experiment with a combination of popular and niche hashtags to find your brands’ sweet spot.
What social platforms are best for hashtags?
Although many social platforms have jumped on the hashtag bandwagon, the truth is that they work better on certain social platforms than others. It’s important to know where hashtags are most effective, and where you should spend more time focusing on hashtag research.
Through our experience, we’ve found that hashtags seem to work best on Instagram, and Twitter. However, this doesn’t mean you should forego hashtags on every other platform, as things can change quickly within the social media landscape. So experimenting with hashtags on other platforms is essential.
Here’s a quick run down on hashtags on the major social platforms.
The birthplace of hashtag usage!
Twitter hashtags are mainly used to denote specific topics of conversation. The “Trends” sidebar of your Twitter feed curates a list of hashtags you might be interested in, based on your tweets. Many people use Twitter hashtags to join in on current conversations, discussions, and opinion threads.
Personally one of our favourite hashtag platforms.
Instagram hashtags can be used to complement photos shared on Instagram and help you discover new accounts and pick up followers. Some hashtags are created specifically for Instagram photo challenges — #ThrowbackThursday, for example, encourages users to post old photos.
Facebook joined in on the hashtag action back in 2013, however the practice has not picked up much steam. This is generally because most people on Facebook have private accounts, therefore using hashtags on posts doesn’t do much at all without setting their posts to ‘public’. Nevertheless, clicking on Facebook hashtags will take you to a list of public posts containing the same hashtag.
Use Pinterest hashtags to mark and search for content. Click on the hashtag in a pin description to navigate results that contain the exact hashtag, plus pins with the same word or phrase in the description.
Earlier this year, YouTube also began embracing the hashtag trend.
The video platform now allows uploaders to add hashtags to their descriptions and video titles to make it easier for viewers to find their channels and content. Like in other places on the internet, YouTube's hashtags are clickable and will bring up a results page with other videos tagged with the same thing. The website will even display the top three hashtags at the bottom of the video and above its title.
Using hashtags for your business
Hashtags are an easy and effective way to build and grow your brand. Here are a few ways to use them to for your business.
1. Discover popular hashtags in your industry
2. Make hashtags part of your regular posts
Being consistent with adding relevant hashtags to your regular posts can boost your visibility and engagement on social platforms.
3. Try jumping in on trending hashtags
You can look at which hashtags are trending on certain social channels and work those into your own posts. Joining in on trending conversations will help you get more impressions on your post. However, do make sure they are still relevant to your industry.
4. Create a brand or campaign hashtag
You can create your own brand hashtag. You can make it your company name or a tagline that you want people to know about your business. Use it as your central business tag, that you - and your customers - can use anytime, and on any social site. It’s a great way to market your brand and promotions.
A great example is KitKat’s hashtag #HaveABreak. They consistently use it on all their social sites from Twitter to Instagram. Their consumers know their brand hashtag, and they use it to engage with the social KitKat community.
Now that you’ve got all this knowledge about hashtags under your belt, it’s time to start incorporating them in your own marketing strategies!
To learn more about how social media can grow your business, check out The Backdrop Blog.