A hashtag can look like many things. It can #be #extremely #annoying #and #extended. It can be worn out and beaten down to the point that it loses its initial meaning #blessed. It can grow so violently that it leaks into everyday conversation #sorrynotsorry. And somewhere inside all that rubble, it can be used to make a palpable difference in your marketing efforts.
These snappy clauses were born on Twitter and have since expanded to nearly every social media outlet. They’ve gained so much popularity that they’ve actually managed to override the pound sign when describing the four-lined symbol in common conversation.
Hashtags feature the hash mark followed by just about anything: a keyword, phrase, slogan or number. In the marketing realm, they can categorize content, promote post awareness and boost social shares. Writing a hashtag within a caption groups your post into a stream of similar content that people can explicitly search for. Here’s a breakdown of what they are, how you should use them and the tools that can aid you in the process.
Why you should be using hashtags
Hashtags are one of the most effective ways to magnify your posts’ reach. They allow your content to be viewable by anyone who is searching for a specific topic, expanding the amount of people who can see your post to those who aren’t in your circle.
If done correctly (read: not obnoxiously) you have the potential to reach thousands of different users who may otherwise never hear about you. For free.
You can join in on a national conversation, start a movement, promote a campaign and introduce a new product or service. That’s a lot of potential coming from a few words.
How to use hashtags on social media
Every type of social media platform has its own rulebook for hashtag use. Some outlets allow you to fill your sentences with multiple pound signs,others demand a more succinct approach. Make sure you tailor your hashtag approach to the specific media you’re posting on.
On Twitter, the golden number is two.
According to Buddy Media, tweets with two hashtags get double the amount of engagement than those without. However, make sure you keep it at two. The same study showed that anything above two hashtags drops engagement levels by 17%.
On Twitter, you can take advantage of the trending topics toolbar on the left-hand side to look for hashtags that are actively being followed and join in on the discussion if you have something valuable to add.
However, be wary of accompanying your ads with hashtags. Twitter found that sponsored tweets without hashtags or mentions gained 23 percent more clicks than those with them. For normal tweets, you can use hashtags anywhere in the beginning, middle or end.
With Instagram, hashtag quantity won’t affect post quality, unless you go completely overboard. On average, using around 10 hashtags per post is ideal. Here, they serve you best when they’re placed at the end of a caption, or even right below it in the comments.
Hashtags on Instagram drive user engagement and creates brand awareness. To know which ones you should feature, look them up in the search box to see the number of times they’ve been used by other accounts.
One thing to be wary of: The Instagram Shadowban. Instagram’s recent update has caused accounts who engage in spammy or inappropriate behaviors to not appear to people outside of their followers. The problem is that you can sometimes that happens when you use the same hashtag consistently throughout your posts. This can be detrimental to business looking to promote their content, and goes against the whole purpose of using a hashtag in the first place.
In order to avoid making it on the banned list, stay clear of any broken or banned hashtags, bots that auto-like or auto-comment on your posts and don’t go on a huge like/comment/follow/unfollow spree.
Hashtags haven’t really been able to find their footing on Facebook.
In fact, they tend to have more side effects than benefits. They haven’t been show to boost engagement at all, and unless they’re a specific brand hashtag, they can look very out of place on the app.
Also, Facebook doesn’t let you directly search for hashtags in the search bar, making them irrelevant.
Hashtags on Pinterest work to direct people to a similar content. That means your hashtag won’t necessarily be grouped with other hashtags, but with related posts.
In general, Pinterest isn’t the place for hashtags. The best way to use them here is to use brand-specific, customized hashtags so people can see your own related pins. If you do decide to use hashtags here, keep them brief. Sometimes Pinterest actually penalizes pins that overdo it on the hashtag front.
Google+ automatically adds hashtags to a post based on its content. You can then add and customize the hashtags as you please, including in the comments.
One benefit of hashtags on this platform is that your post can appear on the right side of the Google search results page if someone searches for that tag.
The different types of hashtags
Hashtag etiquette largely depends on the type of hashtag you’re using. There are three different forms of hashtags: brand, content and trending. Let’s break them down.
Brand hashtags are made for a specific business. They can consist of a brand’s name or catchphrase and will typically be evenly spread out throughout a profile. For example, companies such as Kit Kat feature their catchphrase #HaveABreak and #MyBreak on most of their posts. At Wuilt, we repeat our catchphrase Watch Your Website Build Itself consistently. This an effective way to unify a brand’s image and to group all relevant posts under one hashtag.
Another type of a brand hashtag is a campaign hashtag, which is created to market a specific campaign and usually dies down after the hype is over. You’ve probably seen multiple versions of these on social media. Red Bull gained a significant amount of responses from their #PutACanOnIt campaign, which asked the people of the internet to take a photo of a Red Bull can set over any object.
Coca Cola’s #ShareaCoke campaign played on the popularity of the brand’s personalized bottles by asking users to share a picture of their experience.
One reason that campaigns like these are so successful is they let internet users do their favorite thing: get creative.
These types of campaigns encourage brand interaction and inspire people to challenge themselves to come up with the boldest, most humorous response. With so much toxicity crowding the internet, a humorous campaign like Red Bull’s or a heartwarming one like Coca Cola’s is refreshing. You can also persuade people to share your hashtag by providing an incentive such as a giveaway or special deal.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing a brand or campaign hashtag is to make sure it’s not already popular in its own right. Do your research to keep your campaign hashtag from getting lost in a sea of similar posts. Keep it short, memorable and completely yours.
Content hashtags can range from the general to the random to the completely far-fetched. They don’t include any aspect of your brand, but can be fitted to your distinct field, industry or services.
One way to use a content hashtag is to tag your products. If you’re a breakfast joint, you can use a hashtag for any of the delicacies you’re known for, such as #pancakes or #omelettes. However, be keen to note that there are thousands of similar posts using these hashtags, as you’ll see in the feed for omelettes below:
Sometimes generalized hashtags can prove too crowded for your post. One way to navigate this is to create a balance between the types of hashtags you use, with a mix between brand-specific and content tags. You can also look for more unique hashtags that won’t see such a wide distribution.
Content hashtags can also tag specific locations – a good idea if you own a local business.
Ultimately, you should get creative with the types of content hashtags you use, and test to see which hashtags skyrocket your posts’ popularity.
Trending hashtags reflect current popular topics, campaigns, holidays or events happening both locally and internationally. They can be an effective method of growing your brand’s digital presence. When you enter a national conversation with your own unique input, you get the chance to secure your 10 seconds of fame.
If the trending topic is within your field, use this as a way to highlight your expertise on the subject. You can weigh in with expert advice, or give general feedback on something that relates to you. For example, Chief Executive of Team Mobile John Legere used the trending #PokemonGo to offer an interesting tidbit relating to rising data usage in the company.
Trending hashtags can range from the silly to the serious. Sometimes they’re as simple as an interesting conversation happening worldwide. You can figure out a way to enter the conversation by offering a humorous take on it, like the post DiGiorno made about #NationalCheeseLoversDay.
At the same time, remember to be sensitive and check what the trending topic is about. While DiGiorno probably inspired a few chuckles with their cheese lovers’ day post, they gained a lot of heat for their post on #WhyIStayed, which documented the reasons people stayed in abusive relationships.
When you’re using a trending hashtag, make sure you’re doing it right. If you’re offering humor or wisdom you’re probably safe, but if you’re including the tweet for the mere sake of showing up on people’s feed, you’ll be seen as spammy and irrelevant. Joining in on too many trending conversation can also get you blacklisted by Twitter.
Hashtag tools to use
With so many hashtags out there, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask the internet for a little help narrowing down your options. There are countless tools that you can use to help you select and organize your hashtags. Here are some of the most helpful ones.
Hashtagify acts as a digital encyclopedia for all things hashtag-related. It’s a great tool to find trending hashtags on Twitter and see what’s new in the social sphere. You can look up hashtags related to the ones you’re using, and see which is more popular. The platform offers both free and premium accounts.
Tagboard measures hashtag use across the internet and demonstrates they’re activity on different social media platforms. You can see results from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
RiteTag helps you stay relevant by showing you instant suggestions for the best hashtags that you can use for a particular image. It tracks hashtag engagement in real time, displaying which ones are the most popular or irrelevant. With hashtags rising and dropping in popularity in mere minutes, it’s helpful to know which ones are currently in use.
General hashtag etiquette
As with any digital language, there are specific things you should say, and specific things you’re better off not publishing. Once you’ve mastered how to treat hashtags on particular media outlets, there are some general rules you should adhere to.
No matter what outlet you’re using, don’t overdo it. If you’ve seen Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s hashtag video, then you can understand why it’s never a good idea to fill your captions with too many pound signs. Focus on the general amount that each platform calls for.
Also, make sure you keep your hashtags short. Nothing is more tiring to look at than a #HashtagThatTakesUpTheEntirePage. You can shorten phrases, use acronyms or opt for an entirely new set of words.
You can also look to see which hashtags influencers are using, especially those related to your specific field. Use this as a way to stay relevant within that demographic and reach more people.
Hashtags are a beneficial way of increasing your exposure
On Twitter, the ideal number of hashtags to use is two
Increasing your number of hashtags on Instagram is a good way to secure engagement
On Facebook, Pinterest and Google+, hashtags aren’t as useful, but you can still use them sparingly
Brand hashtags include a tagline or campaign name and can help unify your image
Focus on more niche content hashtags in order to get more engagement
Join in on trending hashtags if you have something of value to add
Tools such as Hashtagify, Tagboard, RiteTag and Twitanalyzer can show you which hashtags to use
Always remember to keep your hashtags short, relevant and meaningful