As a millennial, it’s hard for me to imagine a world without the Internet. While I remember a time before going on the computer was a daily thing for me, so much of Internet culture has been burned into my brain and now comes second nature. Sometimes I find it hard to imagine not knowing certain things. One of those things that friends and clients new to social media ask me a lot are “what are hashtags?” Because I know so well, it’s been hard for me to explain up until now.
From the beginnings of social media, I’d had a pretty thorough understanding of hashtags, what they are, what they’re for, and why they’re beneficial. So many people using them incorrectly has distorted people’s ability to understand their benefit. As a result, I see so many business owner friends posting on social media and not using hashtags, then wondering sadly why they aren’t generating more traffic to their posts.
So, here’s your crash course on hashtags. When to use them, how to make them, why they’re important, and more! I’ll explain hashtag use per social media platform a little later in order to make it a little easier.
First of all, what are hashtags?
The following are hashtags:
- this is a #hashtag
With the three examples above, #1 is one hashtag. You’re hashtagging the word “hashtag”. For 2 and 3, they are the same hashtag – the phrase “this is a hashtag”. However, #3 has camel case (when each word is capitalized) to make it easier to read.
The following are not functional hashtags:
- # this is a hashtag
- # thisisahashtag
- this is a hashtag#
Notice the spaces and the placement of the hashtag. The hashtag symbol should be at the beginning and stuck to all the letters in the words you want included. As soon as there’s a space, the hashtag stops working.
What do hashtags do?
A hashtag is a word or phrase that, by adding a hash symbol before it (#) you are categorizing that piece of content to be included in a list of other content that uses that same hashtag. Most social media platforms have a search bar you can use to search for a hashtagged word or phrase and find a ton of content about that topic. It’s a way of making sure your content is included in that particular conversation.
The three most important places to use hashtags will be Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Hashtags only just became usable on LinkedIn and, as of September 2016, are only available on mobile. They should be used the same way as Facebook. You can also use hashtags on Google+, but people don’t really use Google+ so I’m not going to waste my time, I’m just going to link you to this awesome little article in case you’re interested in learning more.
If you aren’t using hashtags on Facebook, it’s not a huge deal. They aren’t as popular and powerful here as they are on Twitter and Instagram. If your audience is socially savvy, you may want to use them just to be safe. However, if you’re targeting people who aren’t super familiar with them, it’s safe to skip them.
It’s been shown that on average on Facebook, the more hashtags you use, the lower your engagement rate. 1 or 2 is okay but any more than that may hurt you. For Facebook, the best time to use hashtags is for some kind of event.
Here’s an example. In 2015, I attended WordCamp Miami which is this awesome conference of people who love WordPress. They had a hashtag across all platforms – #wcmia2015. There is no process to “creating a hashtag” other than using it and asking other people to use it, too. When someone posted on Facebook using the hashtag, all the other attendees could see it by searching for the hashtag on Facebook. It was a great way to keep everyone conversing and a way for the organizers to make announcements that would reach everyone.
So, when should I use hashtags?: If you’re hosting an event or something you want to keep track of engagement for. Always remember to tell attendees to use your hashtag if they are sharing info on the event. This goes for every platform, but for Facebook, it’s the main way it would help you.
Here is where hashtagging gets serious. Even though Instagram is a highly visual platform, the hashtags are probably the most important part to getting engagement and building traffic to your profile. The hard thing about social media is that unless someone sees an ad you’ve launched or has a direct link to your profile, they may never see your posts. If you’re using hashtags, every search for those hashtags an opportunity for you to grow your audience.
With Instagram, you want to do some research. First, make a list of the things you’re talking about in your post. For example, when I promote my Facebook ads webinar, I use the following hashtags because they’re revelant: “#facebook, #ads, #facebookads, #advertising, #onlinemarketing, #internetmarketing, #socialmedia, #webinar, #free, #freewebinar”
Now, search each one of your chosen hashtags in the Instagram app and check out the most popular posts. If I search #facebook in Instagram, I’ll get 9 top posts, and then a stream of the most recent posts using that hashtags. I’ll check out the top posts to see what other related hashtags they use. Remember – only use hashtags that are related to your content. Stuffing with irrelevant keywords in order to attract a larger audience is spam.
10-15 hashtags per post is usually okay for Instagram. Much more than that and you aren’t being specific enough. You should also list your hashtags at the end of your post as opposed to using hashtags in the meat of your description. Here an example.
So, when should I use hashtags: ALWAYS. You should never post on Instagram without hashtags unless you already have an enormous following of thousands of people. If you’re trying to earn organic engagement and followers, use relevant hashtags at the end of every post.
The point of hashtags on Twitter is much the same as it is on Instagram. I explained a little bit about Twitter hashtags above. Here are some other things you should know about Twitter.
- You only have 140 characters, so it’s okay to hashtag pieces of your tweet as opposed to putting them at the end. For example: “Sign up for my free #Facebook #webinar!” is a pretty ideal tweet. This is opposed to “Sign up for my free Facebook webinar! #free #webinar” which is a waste of characters because I’m using the same words twice.
- Only use 1-3 hashtags per tweet. Any more than that and your tweet just looks like one big hashtag. People want to focus on the content first and the hashtags should kind of be an afterthought as you’re reading.
- Keep an eye on the trending hashtags. There are often joke hashtags you can use to jump into new conversations and add some personality to your profile. For example “ThursdayThought” and “DescribeYourselfIn5Words” are both trending today. No matter what your niche, these are fun ways to come up with new content and create a personal connection with your audience.
So, when should I use hashtags?: Same as Instagram – always unless you already have tons of followers. At least one every single Tweet. Remember to work them in, only use relevant tweets, utilize them for events, and keep an eye on what’s trending.
Short answer, just in case you were wondering – don’t use hashtags on Pinterest. So many people want to stuff them in wherever they see an opportunity because they magically believe they will improve traffic. Pinterest actually frowns on the use of hashtags and doesn’t register them in searches.
So, when should I use hashtags?: Never.
So, that’s hashtags! I hope I was able to clear things up a little for you. If you have any questions about hashtags or the weirdness that is social media marketing, leave them in the comments below!