The Art of Using Hashtags on Social Media

Category: Social Media Marketing

Written by: Heather Parker

Posted on: July 19, 2017

The hashtag. It all began back in 2007 when social technology expert, Chris Messina, was credited with the very first hashtag on Twitter: #barcamp. Since then, Twitter has seen an average of over 500 millions tweets per day. But since it’s inception, the hashtag has been used, and abused, time and time again. For that reason, we thought we’d share some helpful tips for using hashtags correctly on social media.

First, think of a hashtag as a keyword or topic. If someone is searching for family vacation ideas, they could use hashtags on several social networks to find resources related to that search: #familyvacationideas. Hundreds of tweets populate for this particular hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But what about this particular hashtag was done right and how could it have gone wrong? Let’s break it down.

A Hashtag Should Be Specific

But not too specific. True, a user could be looking for family vacation ideas in Europe, but the longer a hashtag is, the messier it becomes. Try, #familyvacationideasineurope. Nothing, right? This is because this hashtag is hard to read and users have become accustomed to searching with simpler topics. Now, let’s try this: #familyvacationideas #europe. While significantly fewer results on Twitter, you’ll still find that two separate hashtags lead to more specific content. However, it should be noted that searching for multiple hashtags on Facebook and Instagram is far less likely to generate results using this approach.

A Hashtag Should Be Relevant

Don’t try to squeeze in hashtags that you know perform well if they aren’t related to your content or the search. This only causes confusion for your audience and will likely result in lack of trust. #familyvacationideas should result in topics directly related to that search: family vacation ideas, not vacation destinations for singles ready to mingle.

Hashtag Mistakes

Mistake #1

The most common mistake when using hashtags on social media is using too many. Sure, users may be searching two hashtags instead of one, but adding too many hashtags in your tweet or Facebook post can be overwhelming for the user. Make sure your posts and use of hashtags are clear and concise. Trying to use hashtags for every single topic is overkill:


Mistake #2

Starting your hashtags with numbers. Try searching #2017presidentialdebate. What did you find? Either you’re seeing “no results found” or just a few searches that aren’t really what you were looking for. Numbers can certainly still be used in your hashtag, but just remember, it’s best not to start with them. Now try #presidentialdebate2017. See the difference?

Mistake #3

Trying to use special characters, symbols, or spaces. The most commonly used character is the exclamation point, but any special characters included in a hashtag won’t generate results. Hashtags are only recognized using the pound (#) sign. Hashtags use the # sign to convert your topics into something clickable for users to search.  Special characters like "!, $, %, ^, &, *, +, ." simply won’t work.

Mistake #4

Many social media users, including businesses, have tried to create hashtags out of phrases. While a hashtag can be used for satire or a punch line, a good rule of thumb is: if you can end it with a period, you probably shouldn't start it with a hashtag. Don’t try to turn your full sentences into hashtags. As we mentioned, the longer the hashtag, the more confusing it becomes to your audience.

Don’t Forget to Consider the Platform

While these tips shed some light on how best to use hashtags, remember each social media platform is different. If you’re using social media for business, make sure you’re aware of how each platform uses them, or doesn’t use them. Always keep in mind how using hashtags correctly or incorrectly is affecting how your brand is perceived on social media.

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