Amanda Meadows March 27, 2019
“It’s not about getting seen by a lot of people, it’s about getting seen by the right people.” (Michael Aynsley, Hootsuite)
Hashtags aren’t new, but there seems to be a lot of confusion about them. At times the subject of ridicule, at other times eagerly overused, hashtags are still a mystery to many people trying to figure out how to advertise their business online.
How did hashtags start?
In 2007 Chris Messina realized that there wasn’t a good way to organize tweets by relevance. He thought there should be a way to tag posts to organize them into different channels. He went to Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, and proposed his idea to tag posts by using the pound sign (or “hash” in programmer language). Hashtags started to take off on Twitter and then on Instagram when it launched in 2010.
Facebook didn’t officially adopt hashtags until 2013, but users had already been including them in posts for some time, as a way to add meaning instead of to organize their post. Since then other social platforms like Reddit, Pinterest, and LinkedIn have adopted hashtags as a way to help users search for other relevant posts.
Learn more about the hashtag’s history on WIRED.
How do hashtags work?
When you insert a hashtag into a post, the hashtag becomes a link. Users can click on the link to see all posts with the same hashtag. Or they can search the hashtag in the platform’s search bar to see all the related posts on that platform.
Should I use hashtags for my business?
Hashtags help brands in a few ways:
Build brand awareness.
When you tag a post with a hashtag, you’re categorizing your business so that your target audience can discover you. On the flip side, you can search a hashtag in order to see what others in your industry are posting about and see what customers are saying. Used properly, the hashtag can be a valuable social listening tool for your business.
Keep users engaged.
You’ve probably seen (and maybe even used) hashtags for certain companies or products. These clever hashtags help build a community around your brand, which then creates an affinity for your brand. A couple of great examples are Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke and Charmin toilet paper’s #TweetFromTheSeat campaigns.
See more examples here.
Increase content visibility.
Hashtags make finding relevant content easy. Even if someone isn’t following your social page, they will see your content grouped with other posts in the same category. And now most platforms allow users to follow certain hashtags in addition to specific profiles, so your content will appear in their feed.
Which hashtags should I use for my brand?
So, before you start tagging all your posts with a string of hashtags that might be remotely related to your business, here are a few guidelines for choosing the right hashtags for your posts:
- Research your competitors to see what hashtags they’re using.
- Create a unique hashtag for your brand or a specific campaign.
- Use hashtags that are directly relevant to the post you’re sharing.
- Make hashtags short and memorable.
- Avoid using extremely broad hashtags.
- Make sure your hashtag doesn’t inadvertently say something you don’t want it to say.
Here are a couple of tools you can use to find hashtags you can use in your social content:
Check out Hootsuite’s helpful guide here.
How many hashtags should I use?
There’s a lot of debate about how many hashtags are most effective. Some people say you should use as many as you can; others say you should use only a few. The number actually depends on which social media platform you’re using.
Hootsuite, a popular social media scheduling tool, published a handy guide for 2019 about using hashtags on Instagram. In that report, the optimal number of hashtags for Instagram was 9 per post.
Buffer’s guide to hashtags reports that tweets with hashtags receive double engagement than tweets without hashtags. But keep the number of hashtags to 1 or 2 per tweet. Buffer found that tweets with more than 2 hashtags have 17% less engagement than tweets with only 1 or 2 hashtags.
Facebook was a latecomer to enabling hashtags. So is it odd that Buffer’s report found that posts without hashtags actually perform better than posts with hashtags? But if you’re going to use hashtags, stick to 1 or 2 per post and make sure they’re really good.
The takeaway? #LessIsMore
Using hashtags can help build the reach of your social media posts. But like everything else in this fast-paced digital age, the stats that we see today could change tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Run some hashtag experiments with your social posts to see what works for you and your business.
Do you currently use hashtags? What are some of the things you’ve learned? Have you seen increased engagement with your posts with hashtags? What unique hashtag(s) have you created for your business or for a particular campaign? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a note in the comments.
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