Hashtags - What They Do and How to Use Them

Posted on August 21, 2017 Mary Merritt

With the introduction and rise in popularity of the hashtag, there has been a wave (for some a tsunami) of misconceptions and assumptions about how this tool can further engage our audience and improve visibility. We are here to tell you that when it comes to these four criss-crossing lines, there is a rhyme and reason to how they can better improve your organic social media reach, and it is different on each social platform. Don't let your posts get lost in the chaos that is misused (and abused) hashtagging.

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What is a hashtag?

In 2007 Merriam-Webster first defined the word “hashtag” as “a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet).” Now, 10 years later, most people have come to recognize a hashtag, but many still don’t understand how to use them accurately or effectively on social media.

Once a symbol used to tell people you were #1, or one of the buttons on your telephone, a hash sign is now an important tool on the most popular social media networks for making content discoverable. A hashtag can be a really powerful marketing tool, but only when used correctly!

Did you know? The word hashtag is derived from the words hash, as in hash mark, and tag meaning a word or phrase used for description or identification. A hash mark is thought to have earned its name from the word “hatch”, a term for crisscrossing lines.

Generally, there are two major types of hashtags, a community hashtag and a branded hashtag. A community hashtag is a simple word or phrase that is commonly used by everyone in the social media community, this includes hashtags used for holidays and other happenings such as #NationalSunglassesDay or #FathersDay. A branded hashtag is one created by a business or organization to follow a certain promotion or campaign, you might remember the #ALSIceBucketChallenge or the Coca Cola campaign #ShareaCoke. In this blog, we will talk about the different ways you can use both kinds of hashtags in your social media strategy.

General Hashtag Best Practices:

Be specific without being too specific. Based on your goals, your hashtags can be as broad or specific as they need to be. If your main focus is just to get “likes” or engagement on your posts, then a broad hashtag like #dog will often result in increased impressions. If you are a dog groomer in Fort Collins, Colorado trying to increase engagement with potential leads, then a more specific hashtag like #fortcollinsdogs might help you reach more relevant users in your market.

Be careful with hashtags that are too long or clever. Sure, #SpectailularDogGrooming might seem like a really clever hashtag, and if you like puns as much as we (mostly me) do, then you might be tempted to slap a play on words hashtag like this on your next Instagram post. Unfortunately clever puns and other clever but less straightforward phrases are not going to be commonly used hashtags, and therefore won’t help your post gain visibility. When creating a branded hashtag for a promotion, campaign, or event, keep it straightforward and easy to remember. A shorter hashtag will lessen the possibility of people misspelling or confusing your hashtag when they are trying to engage with your brand. Even when using a community hashtag, consider how many other users might think to type out or search the long unique hashtag, if it seems unlikely then it isn’t really worth it.

Research hashtags before using them. Sticking with our dog grooming example, your first instinct might be to use #fortcollinsdogs as your business specific hashtag, but #FortCollinsCOdogs might have a larger volume of posts. Search for the hashtags you want to use on each social media platform before posting and look at hashtags that others have used! On the other hand, some hashtags that are already commonly used might also mean something different than what you are considering. Unless your hashtag is very simple and common (like #dog), it is smart to double check what you are categorizing your post under to make sure your post is similar to how others use the same hashtag.

Don’t over do it. You will discover quickly on some social media platforms that using a bunch of hashtags can result in a fast increase of followers and engagement on posts. Most of these users are spam accounts, and some of them might start commenting weird or confusing things on your posts. Stick to using relevant and specific hashtags and quality new followers will come in time (and they will also be relevant and specific to your business). One to two hashtags per post should be enough to get the point across.

Learn from other’s mistakes, check out this article of Hashtag Fails That Are Downright Embarrassing before you end up on the next list of fails!


What You Should Know About Sharing Hashtags on Twitter

On August 23, 2007, Chris Messina tweeted about an idea on how to organize groups of information on Twitter. Later in an interview, Messina claimed that he never really thought that the hashtag would catch on, but he was going to keep doing his thing while others complained about not having a solution to the problem. It wasn’t until the 2007 San Diego fire that people started using Messina’s proposed tracking system, and slowly but surely the hashtag was born on Twitter. Twitter eventually adopted the hashtag as an official feature.

To search through a specific hashtag feed on twitter, you search the hashtag using the magnifying glass on the app or in the box at the top of the page on your computer.

By default you are taken to the tab of results with posts that have the most likes or engagement. You also have the option to sort by “latest” to get real time results of public tweets using the hashtag. Tweets that are discoverable through a hashtag must be from a public account, and similarly to Instagram, Twitter displays the tweets in a way that is easy to follow and engage with as you scroll through. Being the first social media network to “invent” or introduce hashtags, Twitter users are accustomed to discovering information in this way. The major difference in engaging with new content on Twitter vs Instagram is users have the ability to easily share or “retweet” content to their followers. In some ways, finding interesting and timely new content in the Twitterverse depends on the hashtag with a live trending hashtag feed showing up on the left of everyone’s homepage.

How Should You Use Hashtags on Twitter

When jumping on trending hashtag topics. Trending hashtags can change in a matter of minutes, and could result in your five seconds of fame, or your tweet could be lost in the sea of businesses who are trying to do the same thing. It’s the luck of the draw, but if you see a hashtag that is trending and it is relevant to your business, jump on board! But remember to always research your hashtag as this tactic, when rushed, can cause the worst faux pas.

When trying to establish yourself as an industry leader. Much like an Instagram plan to try and build your audience, using a community hashtag that is relevant to your industry will help others in your industry find your tweets. Use this tactic to increase the reach of and share your business’s blogs or insights, try and teach everyone something new or provide a fresh perspective on a hot topic.

When trying to launch a campaign, contest, or promotion. On Instagram your followers will share pictures, on Twitter they share perspectives in 140 characters or less. Host a promotion where you encourage your followers to #FillintheBlank on a phrase about your business, or try and start your own trending hashtag using a branded hashtag you created. Get creative when it comes to the kind of content you want your followers to provide, if it’s fun enough they might encourage their own followers to play along.


What You Should Know About Sharing Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram first introduced hashtags on January 27, 2011 as the app was just starting to take off. Gaining 1 million users in only 10 weeks, Instagram saw the value in using hashtags to gain more business related users for promotional purposes. In their eyes, Instagram was creating a network that presented opportunities for both users and brands.

Fun fact: the day instagram started using hashtags was the same day insta-user Jennifer Lee posted the comment #selfie on a picture posted only a few weeks prior, which was the first hashtag selfie on instagram. The post got 67 likes at the time.

The magnifying glass at the bottom of Instagram represents the in-app search. Instagram’s results show your hashtag at the top and other relevant hashtags following. Once you click on a hashtag it will open up its specific hashtag preview page.

Along the top of each individual hashtag page is a list of popular related terms that other users frequently use with your chosen hashtag. The first nine results show the most popular posts with that hashtag and below that are results in real time based on when they were posted or tagged. When a user opens a specific post, Instagram stacks the results to make them scrollable and easy to engage with.

An account must be public for a post to appear on the hashtag page, but generally, Instagram users are not only used to the hashtag search feature, but they actively use it to discover new content. In fact, Instagram continues to find ways to integrate hashtags into Instagram Stories and various other features of the app to help users share and discover posts that interest them.

How Should You Use Hashtags on Instagram

A study by Simply Measuredin 2014 showed that a post with even just one hashtag on it had 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag. In 2014 the Instagram community consisted of 200 million users, and that number is now up to 700 million! With that in mind, hashtags on Instagram are only as valuable as the goals you have for them, so follow the guidelines below for a successful Instagram strategy:

When trying to gain followers or “fans” of your awesome content! If your goal is to simply increase your number of followers or engagement on your posts, then the use of a few community hashtags will help to raise impressions and make your content more discoverable. You can’t count on the hashtag to do all of the work for you, your content will still need to be interesting and relevant to the hashtag for this to work. Beware, it is not uncommon to get spammy comments and follows from the use of a community hashtag on instagram, monitor your posts closely.

When trying to find relevant potential leads. If you want to build brand recognition and find local or relevant leads for your business, it will be important for your hashtags to be a little more specific. Still using a community hashtag to tag your posts, you will want to research what locals are using to share pictures with other locals. Our dog groomer might use #FortCollinsDogs to try and get in front of the dog parents in the area who are tagging their own dogs with the hashtag. This would also be a situation to use a branded hashtag, except unlike the Facebook example above, you are encouraging clients to use the hashtag on their next instagram of their dog, like Instagram word of mouth (IWOM?).

When trying to launch a campaign, contest, or promotion. Don’t forget the general rules for using hashtags when creating your branded campaign on Instagram. Choose a hashtag that will be easy to remember, easy to replicate without typos, and cohesive to your brand. This is one of the easiest ways to get current fans to interact with your brand, while potentially enticing their followers to join in.


What You Should Know About Sharing Hashtags on Facebook

Facebook first introduced hashtags in June, 2013 when they observed “during primetime television alone, there is between 88 to 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook - roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night” as stated by Greg Lindley in an official Facebook blog post. After the famous “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, over 1.52 million people took to Facebook to post, comment, and engage with the happenings of the episode (which is a pretty big percentage of the 5.2 million people who were reported watching that night). It was then that Facebook realized there was a need to join other networks in providing a larger feed for similar conversations and topics, thus they introduced the hashtag.

To look through a hashtag feed on Facebook it is as simple as typing the hashtag in the search bar at the top of the page.

Facebook shows you a combination of Pages, Groups, Videos, Photos, and Posts that are either relevant to the hashtag or contain the hashtag. The results themselves are either public to everyone on Facebook or they were shared by one of your Facebook friends. Many users have personal Facebook profiles set to private or have limited public visibility, which makes it difficult to reach a larger audience with hashtags, and makes usage uncommon.

In the search results, Facebook automatically sorts the content using its algorithm to attempt to find content that is relevant to the user. From there, a search can be further narrowed by date, location, or who it was posted by. Content on this page is difficult to engage with, and in most cases you have to leave the page of results to do so (unlike Twitter or Instagram which provides a feed of results that you can easily like, or retweet).

How Should You Use Hashtags on Facebook

Although the hashtag feature on Facebook is intended to help raise impressions and engagement on content, users have become accustomed to using this network in a different way, predominantly engaging with friends and family, as well as brands they have chosen to “like”. It is less common for users to discover new content using hashtags on Facebook - but there are still some ways this tool can be used to provide value to your social media strategy and your followers:

When engaging with a large national or local event or news. It’s possible that when looking for details about an event or something newsworthy a user might search for it on social media. When engaging and contributing to these types of things as a brand, it’s important to consider whether the hashtag for the event is relevant to your business or if you are just trying to jump onboard with the trend. Hijacking a trending topic to try and get more views or impressions can often result in a lot of backlash.

When trying to tell a story or create an easy-to-follow experience. It might be common for your business to host events or attend trade shows, do monthly contests, or want to organize certain themed posts for your followers. In this case, it would be appropriate to create a unique hashtag that allows your followers to easily find that information in one place. Our Fort Collins dog groomer might create the hashtag #DayatDogGrooming to tell the story of their clients’ experience while they are being groomed. In this case, the hashtag is specific to the business and will potentially be searched by customers looking for content about their pet.

Aside from these recommendations, if you decide to use hashtags on Facebook follow the other general recommendations on hashtag use: keep it simple, and relevant! Keep in mind some mobile phone users still do not have access to hashtag feeds on Facebook.

What Now?

Hashtags can be useful tools for your social media strategy, but when used incorrectly or out of context you can make some pretty awkward mistakes that might cause you some serious backlash. When used correctly, they can aid in increasing brand recognition and even drive valuable leads to your website.

Participating in social media while running a business can be pretty time consuming and tricky, contact NerdyMind today for help with your social media management.

This is a lot of information to remember, click here to download our infographic to reference when you work on your social media strategy!

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