What the #hashtag? Understanding the basics and how to apply them.

In 2007, Chris Messina used the first hashtag in a tweet, suggesting people use them for groups. Since then, hashtag usage has moved to all social media platforms and expanded to building engagement, creating a library of content and anything in between. As hashtags have continued to grow in their use, so has their importance for all social media strategies. 

What Are Hashtags

Hashtags are created when using the # symbol followed by any combination of letters and numbers. This produces a clickable link (e.g., #Blog) that takes the viewer to a catalog of content using the same hashtag. They allow anyone to simply click and be taken to additional content using the same hashtag. It is a great way to improve the sharing of content while also categorizing it. Hashtags help brands increase engagement, jump into relevant conversations, build community, show support of a cause and more.

Hashtag Basics

Although it may seem like a great idea to include 20 hashtags or use it for every word in a post to increase your reach, they can also negatively impact your content. For example, using too many hashtags or ones that are not relevant to your content can lead to less engagement and at times drive an audience away from your channel. Below are some basic rules to follow that will help with content development.

Hashtag Dos:

  • Always start your hashtag with #.
  • Punctuation or a space ends your hashtag.
  • Have a public profile.
  • Keep hashtags short, too many words cause confusion.
  • Use hashtags relevant to your content.
  • Research trending hashtags before using them.

Hashtag Don’ts:

  • Don’t hashtag every single word. This makes content hard to read.
  • Don’t utilize a trending hashtag for content unrelated to the conversation.
  • Don’t use the same number of hashtags on each platform.
  • Don’t use hashtags alone.
  • Don’t add spaces in your hashtag. This ends the hashtag.

Hashtags by Channel

Be aware of suggested usage specific to each social channel you are posting on. These generalized rules are good to follow, but there are a number of best practices specific to the different channels. For example, Instagram allows a user to quickly digest visuals, while Twitter provides an area for real-time conversation and information. It makes sense that an audience would be using hashtags in different ways within these platforms.

Instagram

Expanding reach to building community, hashtags on Instagram are a great way to reach an audience and engage with them. Instagram allows a user to follow a specific hashtag and drives this content into their feed. When it comes to using hashtags in your post, best practice on Instagram is now to include the hashtags in the first comment of the post. This helps improve the readability of the caption and doesn’t flood the content with links. 

Suggested hashtag count: 5-12

Facebook

Being the most rounded social platform for all content, Facebook audiences tend to accept a wide range of hashtag use. Add them at the end of your post, include them in the post copy or lead with a popular hashtag. When it comes to the number of hashtags in a post, it’s important to note that studies have shown engagement per post drops significantly when adding four or more hashtags.

Suggested hashtag count: 1-2

Twitter

Because of the limited characters per post, it is important to select your hashtags carefully for Twitter. Hashtags that are too long -- or using too many -- may cause issues with character count. Including hashtags in the copy rather than at the end will help save characters for your tweet. Similar to Facebook, as more hashtags are used in a tweet, engagement begins to drop.

Suggested hashtag count: 1-2

LinkedIn

Using hashtags on LinkedIn is a great way to categorize content and make it more discoverable. Similar to Facebook and Twitter, it is widely accepted to use hashtags in the content of your post or add the hashtags at the end of the post. However, some hashtags may be appropriate for other social channels but won’t work with your LinkedIn audience. LinkedIn is a professional social network, so make sure  those hashtags are work appropriate!

Suggested hashtag count: 3-5

Selecting the Right Hashtag

When it comes to selecting the right hashtag, it is important to know your audience, brand and content. You want to be specific to your message and brand to reach audiences who will be most willing to engage with your post. Just because a hashtag is popular or trending doesn’t mean you should use it. Content utilizing hashtags that aren’t relevant or suited to your brand can get buried and lead to lower engagement rates. To help you get started with selecting the right hashtag, run through our list of hashtag topics and see if any fit your need:

  • Industry Focused
  • Branded
  • Content Specific
  • Event Specific
  • Seasonal
  • Location

Identifying hashtags you plan to use and implementing them into your content is the first step to improving your social media strategy. Be sure to monitor the hashtags and make adjustments as you continue to grow your use and expertise.