Hashtags are an often mis-understood area of social media. Yet, it’s surprising how many clients I talk to don’t have even a basic grasp of how they work and how to use hashtags. They seem to be every present in our world, finding their way out of the digital realm and into print and banner advertising everywhere, even casual conversation.
Worst of all, people who don’t understand hashtags were very scared of sounding stupid by asking that really simple question:
“How do hashtags work and how to I use them in my social media channels more effectively?”
If you want advice and guidance on how to hashtags and mentions, there’s no need to feel stupid when you ask for an explanation. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, it was a casual conversation with some clients and friends that highlighted the subject.
In a recent client’s marketing meeting, someone commented “Have you seen XXX’s Twitter? They use loads of amazing hashtags”. I began trying to explain how that particular strategy wasn’t going to work and then realised that the person making the comment actually had no idea how hashtags actually worked or how to use hashtags and that this was going to be a long conversation.
It was that discussion we had that highlighted the need to write this article. The comment, that one of their competitors or rivals used a truly prodigious amount of hashtags in their Twitter feed and that looked really impressive was interesting to me. Over coffee, the discussion between a group of us made me realise that for many people, hashtags can be a bit of a mystery. And while they are aware of the importance of them and they are indeed eye catching, it can be difficult for many people to truly understand how they work and above all, how best to use them in their own business or personal social media feeds.
This article will hopefully explain the basics of hashtag principles, what they are and how to use them most effectively in your social media marketing.
Hashtag Basics – What is a Hashtag?
A hashtag looks like this #hashtag and has several uses and benefits. In your social media feed, it is a clickable link and is viewable to anyone with an interest in your hashtag, crucially including those outside of your social circle. This means that, it expands your reach to anyone who may search and click on that hashtag phrase or keyword.
Hashtags are an invention of Twitter and in the early days it allowed people to categorise and add keywords to thier content. Since then, other social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram have adopted the same system. Think of a hashtag as a keyword search for something you may undertake on social media.
So how do hashtags work across the different social media platforms? How many should you be using? Which ones should you choose? Do they work in the same way on each platform?
Today, they are a popular tool used by many platforms. From breaking news to TV shows such as X Factor or Apprentice through tourism channels and trending topics. Here are some basic tips on choosing hashtags that work for you.
How to Use Hashtags.
No spaces or punctuation, they break the tag. A typical example might be #thankgodit’sfriday The hashtag will stop at the apostrophe. Instead, use #thankgoditsfriday or the ever popular #TGIF That’s the reason why sometimes hashtags can sometimes be a little hard to read.
No characters immediately before the hashtag. Again, this will break the hashtag and make it invisible. Be sure to put a character space before you type #
Use appropriate hashtags and not obscure ones. This is really important. Using #myfavouriteplacestogoanddrive isn’t going to gain much traction. Think about what others with similar interests to yours might respond to and also be looking for. So #design #photography as a genre, #yorkshire or #halfterm for family tourism outlets or if you wish to join the conversation, #motogp and of course, #F1 are just two motorsport hashtags which are obvious choices. Right now probably the most famous, or infamous one? #brexit ….
Choosing a hashtag to start a marketing campaign must be used with care. The online world is littered with the wreckage of badly chosen hashtags and it’s easy to create a hashtag with less than optimum connotations. #susanalbumparty is possibly the most famous, intended to promote Susan Boyle’s new album party. Can’t see it? Look again… The world is littered with hashtag mistakes.
Twitter and Hashtags
As mentioned previously, Twitter was the originator of hashtags. Just clicking the Twitter search box on your device of choice will show you what is trending at any given time of the day, anywhere in the world.
Keep them short. Using several shorter hashtags is better that one long one. They quickly become unreadable and readers simply don’t engage with them.
Stuffing hashtags into your Tweets can easily make them unintelligible. Better to use just two and make them count, as the Twitter character count is as short as people’s attecntion span here. Building hashtags into your Tweet rather that adding them at the end is a good way to maximise your character count without your Tweet becoming unreadable.
Pick up on popular hashtags and add your own take to them. There are hashtags that occur regularly that are always useful ways to reach a new audience. for automotive brands, the hashtag #turbotuesday can be useful, plus #throwbackthursday is always useful for classic and historic cars. For example, whenever there is a Friday the 13th, then #fridaythe13th works really well for this client, reaching out far beyond the traditional audience.
Use the suggestion tools on each channel, Twitter’s search tab and Instagram’s auto-suggestion that suggest hashtags as you type are useful ways to engage with people that you may not be aware of.
Instagram and Hashtags
Instagrammers absolutely love hashtags. For many people, the more the merrier is the philosophy. The Instagram hashtag limit is currently set at thirty. While you may not think you need to use all thirty, the capacity is there, so try your best to use it. Obviously, 30 hashtags is a lot and there are three things to consider:
1. Simply adding 30 hashtags right after your Instagram caption can make your post look spammy and cluttered. You’re not doing anything wrong by using your 30 hashtag limit, however it can look messy. Two ways to keep things tidy are either to hit the return five times to move the hashtags further down the screen out of sight. Or if you’re also pushing your Instagram feed out to your Facebook page, them consider adding your hashtags as a comment immediately after you’ve posted your image. That way they hashtags will only appear on Instagram. However, Facebook now supports hashtags too, so right now, I recommend moving your hashtags down your feed a little and taking advantage of the extra reach.
2. The second thing to consider is that 30 hashtags is a lot to either memorise or even discover. I have taken to curating my own list of hashtags for the various genres of Instagram posts and other clients we work with, keeping them together in an Evernote file to simply cut and paste as needed. It’s well worth spending some time to research your hashtag list and compiling a list of the hashtags. Time spent researching and refining your list of hashtags is well worth it as once you have your core list of hashtags for each genre, you can simply copy and paste them, then perhaps add a couple more that are relevant to that particular image.
3. Instagram will tell you the popularity of any particular hashtag. It may be obvious to go after the ones with huge figures alongside them, however don’t forget that means you face a strong competition for that phrase. By all means use it as part of your thirty and also consider lower ranking phrases with lower numbers, as they may actually be more tightly targeted at the people you are trying to reach.
Facebook and Hashtags
Facebook now supports hashtags, though right now, the method of discovering them is a little obscure. Not all mobile apps support it, though they do work on desktop. That’s sure to change and so it’s worth adding a few hashtags to your Facebook page feed. While hashtags are very much mainstream on other platforms, on Facebook, people don’t seem to be picking up on them. So right now fr Facebook, I’d say they’re less important, though that could well change very quickly.
For those who want to get scientific and in depth, this Buffer article offers several great resources for digging deep into hashtags
Hopefully, if you made it this far, you now have a clearer idea of the basics of hashtags, how simply adding the # character to some words won’t always work and how you can use them to reach out to people beyond your immediate social media follower count. Hashtags form an important part of your digital marketing strategy and used creatively and intelligently, can be a useful tool.