Hashtags on Social Media

It’s probably to assume that most people are familiar with the basic idea of hashtags. But knowing of a concept is certainly not the same as understanding it. As such, it’s important to set the record straight regarding how to use hashtags properly, respective of the platform in which they’re used.

From a user standpoint, hashtags are used to categorize content, making the discovery of new or related articles and insights easy to do. Therefore, when hashtags are used incorrectly, people looking for new content have to dig through irrelevant, miscategorized content in order to get to what they’re actually looking for. You don’t want this bad user experience associated with your brand!

Categorization aside, when used inappropriately, hashtags can have a negative impact on your engagement. From Studies i found that Tweets using more than two hashtags see a significant drop in engagement.

The results are similar for Facebook hashtags.

However, on Instagram, the story is a little different. The more hashtags you use, the more engagement you see. However, after about 10 hashtags, you risk losing out on some of that engagement.

What Are Hashtags?

Let’s start with the simple definition:

hash·tag: A word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it.

Whenever a user adds a hashtag to their post, it’s able to be indexed by the social network and becomes searchable/discoverable by other users. Once someone clicks on that hashtag, they’ll be brought to a page that aggregates all of the posts with the same hashtags, in real-time.

Once a keyword picks up enough momentum, it becomes “trending.” But trending isn’t always a matter of becoming the most popular hashtag on the networks. Each user’s trending topics are unique, based on their location, social connections and interests.

Though each network has its own way of displaying posts under a certain hashtag, and their own algorithms for specifying trending content, these rules tend to hold true in general across each social channel.

Where Did Hashtags Come From?

The first use of a hashtag in social media can be traced back to one man. Chris Messina is a former Google employee who worked in developer relations and as a designer on Google+.

He’s been officially credited as the first person who tweeted using a hashtag. This famous tweet happened back in 2007, so it took awhile for the practice to catch on.

As we can clearly see a decade later, hashtags are indisputably here to stay.

How to Use Hashtags

The word “hashtag” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2010, and the Scrabble dictionary in 2014, some of the highest authorities on what defines a real word.

According to a study by social media agency Radium One, almost 75% of people on social media use hashtags. Of course, the number of people who know how to use hashtags correctly is significantly smaller.

Using a hashtag on a social post is really as simple as adding the # sign before a single word or phrase, without spaces or punctuation. You can also include numbers in your hashtags as well. Typing out a hashtag is simple enough, but there are some subtle nuances you should learn to get the most out of them.

Hashtag Basics

Here are a few quick rules for how to use hashtags:

If you’re using hashtags for their intended purpose (categorization and discovery), don’t string too many words together with a single hashtag. On most networks, if you use a hashtag on a public account, anyone who does a search for that hashtag can find your post.

Don’t #spam #with #hashtags. Avoid over-tagging a single post or adding them to every word. Tweets with hashtags had 2 times more engagement than those without, and 55% more Retweets. Use hashtags only on Tweets relevant to the topic. Trying to get attention by using a mismatch between the content of your Tweet and hashtag use won’t do you any favors if people are annoyed. Don’t underestimate the power of understanding how to use hashtags to join in on conversations, such as:

Events and conferences (#WorldCup)

Holidays or celebrations #WorldPizzaDay)

Popular culture topics (#GameofThrones)

Popular hashtags for days of the week (#TBT)

General interest topics (#blogging)

While jumping in on trending conversations is recommended, be careful to tread lightly—especially when using a brand account to respond to a disaster. People have mixed feelings in terms of how a company should show their support for disaster victims. As a general rule, whatever you do, don’t use these types of conversations as a blatant sales opportunity.

Hashtag for Each Specific Social Platform

Most social networks started using hashtags after Twitter first accepted their use, and each social network uses them differently. These rules can help keep you honest relative to the platforms you’re using for your company’s social media strategy.

How to Use Twitter Hashtags

On Twitter, hashtags are used to find conversations to get involved in, or to start one of your own. As long as your profile is public, people can find the posts in which you make use of hashtags. As we mentioned earlier, Tweets with one hashtag generate the most engagement. But engagement drops when you use more than two hashtags. This may be because people assume too many hashtags indicates foul play by bots (or desperation, as discussed earlier). You can find hashtags on Twitter by using the search bar, clicking on the hashtag or looking through the trending topics page.

How to Use Instagram Hashtags

An Instagram hashtag collates all photos with the same hashtag into one stream. The purpose of hashtags for Instagram revolves around discovering content and finding users to follow, exposing you to a larger audience. One study found that posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6% more engagement than those without.

You can discover hashtags by searching for a specific term or clicking on one in a post. When you land on a hashtag page, you’ll see all the photos with the same hashtag and even see some related hashtags you can use. Start typing the hashtag with the “#” symbol, and Instagram will give you suggestions based on popularity.

There have been multiple studies on the optimal number of hashtags to use on Instagram. Since the results tend to vary, there is no universally agreed upon number. We recommend testing it out to see what gets the best results with your audience. Just keep in mind Instagram limits hashtags to 30 per caption or comment.

How to Use Facebook Hashtags

Unlike Twitter or Instagram where most users’ profiles are public, Facebook users have private profiles. Thus, the hashtags most people use on their posts are notdiscoverable to the public and are therefore limited to the people they know. Because of this, most public hashtags belong to influencers or brands.

Here’s how to discover hashtags and related content on Facebook: Click on a hashtag to see related posts, Search using the search bar. Hashtags on Facebook previously were not recognized, but now they are. If you use hashtags on Facebook, keep it to 1-2 hashtags per post per the study we mentioned earlier. It’s also worth noting that hashtags with 10+ characters receive good engagement.

How to Use LinkedIn Hashtags

LinkedIn is one of the latest major social networks to experiment with hashtags. As of this writing, they only work on mobile (in terms of linking to related content), and as such, look a bit strange on desktop.

How to Use Pinterest Hashtags

The main thing that you need to bear in mind when creating hashtags on Pinterest is that they’re only clickable in a Pin description. Also, hashtags aren’t searchable on Pinterest, so you’ll need to just search the keyword to find the content.

How to Use YouTube Hashtags

Hashtag use within YouTube is most prevalent in the comments section. Users can leave comments with hashtags, which will then click through to a page with videos that contain that hashtag in their title. However, it’s perhaps more important to implement a keyword strategy since hashtags are not widely adopted by users yet.

Hashtag Tracking & Analytics

When you’re researching hashtags to use to engage with your audience, it’s also beneficial to consider your audience. Find the keywords and hashtags that are already associated with your brand, and adopt the positive ones.

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