Let’s hash out the #hashtag

Hashtags are becoming more and more popular because they’re no longer limited to Twitter; now they’ve spread to most major social networks. If you haven’t been using them as part of your social media strategy, you’re missing out on getting the best possible results for your business posts.

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What’s a hashtag?
It’s a word or phrase that is preceded by the hash sign: #. A hashtags is used in social media content, and once you post it, the hashtag turns into a searchable link.

If you click on this link, it will take you to a list or feed of posts that have the same hashtag in them. It’s a way of categorizing posts according to their topic.

What does it do?
Here’s a scenario: I’m promoting an online marketing company. I post the following (on any social network):

“Looking for #socialmediatips? Check out: havepresence.com/category/social-media. You’ll find the best advice for your #socialnetworks.”

Once the above gets posted, it gets submitted to the social network’s newsfeed. The words/phrases with the # sign become links. And if you click on one, it will take you to a page with a live stream of other posts that have the same hashtag.

So what? Why should I use them?
Well, using hashtags enables your posts to be found – by your target audience, competitors, field experts, and random individuals too. It basically ups your visibility, which is essential for platforms like Twitter especially, where tweets drown among thousands of others.

They’re particularly valuable for company resources and trends, online events, conferences, and more. Having a standard hashtag for the aforementioned allows people to find and keep up with your brand.

How should I hashtag then?
Here’s an obvious example of terrible hashtag use. Obviously terrible, but I’ve still seen companies do something similar:

#Checkout our new #promo vid. A #sneakpeak into our #product that’s being released in #December. See it now! #dontmissout #TGIF #excited

For lack of a better word, the above is quite disgusting to the eye. Full of unnecessary and irrelevant hashtags! I’ve made the hashtags a different color because that’s what happens when the post goes live; the hashtags stand out (either going bold or changing color – depends on the platform).

So don’t attract negative attention to them. Here’s what to do:

Hashtag best practices

  • It should be extremely relevant – something specific to the industry you’re in and/or something your target audience/potential customers would look for.
  • Use it sparingly; no hashtag abuse, because having too many looks messy and spammy. 2 hashtags are ideal but I’d say 3 is the absolute maximum.
  • Don’t put spaces, punctuation, or other symbols in a hashtag. It breaks the link. So the words in a phrase need to be grouped together, if you want them as one hashtag (you can use upper/lowercase letters to distinguish between the words). Numbers can also be used.
  • Short hashtags are the way to go. Too many words in one hashtag will not get clicked on, and can make the text incomprehensible: #imtryingmybestnottolaughhere.
  • Don’t overdo the same hashtag, especially if it’s not getting you any results.

Hashing on platforms
Hashtags first became popular on Twitter. But Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest have adopted them as well.

Hashtags on Twitter are quite restricted because of the character count limit; don’t waste your 140-character tweet on too many hashtags. Twitter has a ‘Trends’ section that pays special attention to currently popular hashtags.

Google+ is interesting because not only can you add your own hashtags, but Google itself will automatically add ‘related hashtags’ based on your post’s content. These are essential for promoting your post.

Honestly, I don’t see the point of using hashtags on Facebook because they don’t seem to be picking up any momentum. And since FB is still mainly used for personal interactions, it’s not really useful for marketing purposes.

Pinterest allows for hashtags in pin descriptions, but even words without the # symbol will appear in search results, along with words that do have the symbol.

On Tumblr, each post has its own section where you can enter tags (keywords) without the # symbol. When these are posted, the words/phrases in that section automatically get paired with the #, and function like normal hashtags on any other platform. 

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Now that you know how to use it, it’s time to hashtag your way to #success. Below is a great infographic by Offerpop, on the history and stats of hashtags: how a telephonic button sign turned into a hyperlinked targeting & optimization tool.

History of #Hashtags by Offerpop.

History of #Hashtags by Offerpop.

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