Hashtags: Your Definitive Guide To Using Them In Your Social Strategy

There are few words, or symbols for that matter, that have had as great an impact on the 21st century as hashtags have. Once known as just ‘number sign’ or ‘pound sign’, the hashtag has taken on a life of its own since Chris Messina introduced Twitter to the concept in 2007, making it a cultural phenomenon and seeing the word take its place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Today, hashtags are an important part of social media strategy. It’s vital businesses and digital marketing teams know how to make the most of them. So, what are the in’s and out’s of the iconic little symbol?

What is a hashtag?

Chances are you’ve used one before, but what exactly is a hashtag? They’re a way of helping social media users discuss topics. For example, if you were looking to engage with other digital marketers, you may use #digitalmarketing to reach them and share ideas and discussion.

Hashtags can be searched on most major social media platforms to give users an immediate picture of the discussion around a topic. They have become a way of signifying what a post is about, a huge part of your social media strategy to help improve your online presence and spread campaign messaging.

using hashtags for social media marketing
Image: Hashtag search for #digitalmarketing produces 410 results in last hour on Twitter

Hashtags on Twitter

The birthplace of the hashtag. Twitter and its users have a long history of hashtag use, and over a decade later it’s still prevalent on the platform.

On Twitter, hashtags are used to help users find posts discussing a topic or event, either by clicking on a hashtag on Twitter or searching the term. The more a hashtag is used the higher that topic will trend. It is one of the key ways users get involved in conversations on the platform.

Any tweet that includes a hashtag, unless it comes from a private account, can be found by searching the hashtag. Recent Twitter developments have seen it recommending relevant accounts and photos when a user searches a hashtag, giving users the highest quality engagement with the topic.

Video: History of the Hashtag. Chris Messina, inventor of the hashtag, talks about the history of the popular symbol.

In terms of social strategy, limited use of hashtags is best practice on Twitter. Overloading a post can make it appear as spamming, and the length and format of tweets lend themselves to one or two hashtags. Often the best use of hashtags by brands and businesses is ironic or tongue-in-cheek, using them as a punch line to a tweet. There is still benefit in using hashtags to draw people to a conversation or spread the word of a new campaign, but don’t expect to hit number one trending in the world because of a clever hashtag pun.

Hashtags on Instagram

The development of hashtags on Instagram has seen it become one of the best platforms for the format.

Instagram users can follow a hashtag like they would a user, rather than having to search it each time. Hashtag use isn’t confined to posts either, not being used in new forms of content such as Instagram stories. This has led to marketers developing a number of inventive and sophisticated strategies on the platform to make the most of hashtags.

Unlike Twitter, Instagram posts receive higher engagement levels the more hashtags they have. It pays to load up your posts as close to the 30 hashtag limit as possible, just make sure they’re relevant as users can flag a post for having an irrelevant hashtag.

Instagram hashtag example
Example of using multiple hashtags on an Instagram post

It’s important you conduct hashtag research on Instagram to make sure you’re engaging with the most relevant fans for your campaign. Instagram also includes ways to measure the number of engagements your posts received as a result of hashtags, helping digital marketers keep track of their campaigns. There is lots of scope for experimentation with hashtags on Instagram, possibly more than any other platform.

Hashtags on Facebook

Hashtags haven’t had the same kind of impact on Facebook as they have on other social platforms, but that’s not to say there isn’t some benefit to your social strategy there.

The majority of Facebook profiles are set to private, meaning searching hashtags won’t give you the same kind of insight and stream of content you’ll find on other platforms. This can make it difficult to get a discussion going about your campaign.

The best way to make use of hashtags on Facebook is to use the platform to cross-promote hashtag campaigns on other social media. This way you can capture the Facebook audience and lead them onto a platform with much higher hashtag engagement.

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How to get the most out of hashtags

Now we know how hashtags work on the most popular platforms and what the best practice is, let’s take a look at a couple of tips for getting the most out of them as a tool.

See what’s trending

It’s said you shouldn’t do something just because everyone else is, but that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to hashtags.

It pays to latch onto trending topics and use their heightened popularity to boost the visibility of your content. These are the most popular topics on the internet at that moment, being viewed by the most eyes, you should take your chances at having some engagement rub off on you. Your social strategy should be up to date and look to move quickly, and latching onto popular topics is a big part of that.

Find a niche

Alternatively, it pays to know which hashtags get you the most engagement. Conduct some research and experiment with hashtags to find a niche of users who will be interested in your business and campaigns.

Hashtags aren’t just a method of attracting users, they’re something a community can be built around. Build your social strategy around the permanence of your hashtag as somewhere likeminded users can come to discuss an idea, a product and your business.

Cater to the platform you’re using

It’s pointless to try and implement an Instagram hashtag strategy on Twitter. There is a mass audience crossover on social media, but users tend to stick to the etiquette of the platform. If you mix strategies not only will your posts look out of place, they won’t receive anywhere near the engagement they should. Consider best practice for each platform and play to its strength and user preferences.

Whether you think hashtags are a great way for communities to come together or a cringe-worthy annoyance, it’s hard to deny the impact they’ve had on social media. When implementing a social strategy you are losing a certain sub-section of users if you don’t at least attempt to maximize hashtag use.

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2 thoughts on “Hashtags: Your Definitive Guide To Using Them In Your Social Strategy

  1. Hashtags can really enhance your marketing, but only if they are used correctly. If they aren’t, it can actually do more harm than good. This is a great overview of how to use them!

    1. Hi Nick, thanks for the comment! You’re 100% correct, and Kayleigh does a nice job of providing direction so marketers can avoid misusing hashtags. Unfortunately, examples, of hashtag misuse are everywhere still! Hopefully this article helps change things a bit.

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