Hashtags are an essential part of using some social media effectively. But many people find the use of hashtags to be a bit mysterious. Questions I hear all the time are, “What exactly is a hashtag? How do you use them? What’s the point?”
Let’s break it down: what are hashtags and how can you use them effectively?
What are hashtags?
A hashtag is any word or phrase set aside by putting a ‘#’ in front of it. It groups any post or image on a platform together. Think of it as an internal organization method, which allows users to search for all posts or images that are tagged alike.
For example, if I post this picture on Instagram, I could use several different hashtags to categorize my post. A few likely examples would be #cake #birthdaycake #birthday #happybirthday #bakery #sweettreatsbakery or #dessert. If I use those hashtags in my post, then when someone searches for the “birthdaycake” hashtag, my post will be part of the search results.
So, naturally, I wouldn’t want to use hashtags like #horses, #waterbottle, #bedtime, or any other unrelated hashtag. That would be silly.
Why should you use hashtags?
You should use hashtags it helps people find YOUR business online! If you own a bakery and you want to sell more cakes, using #birthdaycake will help people find you when they are looking for someone to bake their next cake! You could show off all the cakes you make, tagging them appropriately, and customers will be able to see a beautiful gallery of your work. It’s a great way to increase awareness and sales!
In addition to searches, sometimes people find an attractive photo and they look closer at it because they are drawn to it. In the example of this cake, if someone stumbles onto this cake and thinks that it looks delicious, they will take a closer look. They’ll also be drawn to check out the hashtags, and they will see that #sweettreatsbakery (the fictional name I assigned to your bakery for this example) is in the list of hashtags. One click and they will see all of the photos or posts that you’ve published, displaying your handiwork. They didn’t have to be actively searching out a bakery to discover you and your amazing work! But you better believe it, they’re going to be checking out your website, finding your location, and asking about what other delectable desserts you make!
So now you know what a hashtag is, but how can you effectively use hashtags in your social media for your business?
Here are 7 tips and ideas for effectively using hashtags to market your business.
1. Don’t uses spaces or punctuation in your hashtags. This is the one and only time I will encourage you to break the grammar rules you learned in elementary school! Apostrophes, exclamation points, question marks, and spaces in between words will essentially break your hashtag. Only the letters preceding the space or punctuation will be included in the hashtag, and if someone tries to search for it they won’t find it. So, if you use #it’smybirthday the only part that will be searchable will be #it. The rest is lost. Instead, you need to use #itsmybirthday.
TIP: Watch carefully as you type on your mobile device! Many devices will auto correct and add spaces and punctuation, breaking your hashtag in half. Double check your hashtags before publishing.
2. Spell your hashtags correctly. If you want to be found when people search, you have to spell things correctly. Try telling someone to search for #birthdaycake when you actually spelled it #berthdaycake and they will never ever ever ever find your post. However, if you search for #berthdaycake, you’ll probably find a dozen or so lonely posts, made by a dozen or so other people who can’t spell. That won’t do a thing for your social media growth.
TIP: double-check your hashtags before finalizing your post. Between our own accidental mis-types and auto correct’s famous misunderstandings, you might post the wrong hashtag and your lovely post will never be seen.
3. Use your own brand’s hashtag. I recommend creating a couple of hashtags that incorporate your business name, and perhaps the name of your signature product or service. If you are running a conference or event, or holding a special promotion, assign a hashtag to that as well. The benefit of that is two-fold. First, if someone wants to learn more about the event or product, they can use the hashtag to see previous posts about it. Second, as awareness of the signature product or promotion grows, others will be encouraged to use the hashtag, and you’ll see further reach and awareness – which means growth! And in the case of an event, everyone who attends the event can be encouraged to use the hashtag throughout and following the event, allowing community interaction through social media in a really powerful way!
TIP: Use your own hashtags as well as a few other hashtags, so that when people find your posts by searching more common words and phrases, they will be introduced to your business, event, or signature product! If you use your own branded hashtags well, you may have awesome opportunity for growing your community online!
4. As a standard rule, don’t write really long, silly, random hashtags. Those are really just for fun, but won’t do much to grow your business. #doireallyhavetoexplainthis #myweddingcakewassobeautiful #ismearedcakeontohisfacebutwouldntlethimsmearcakeonmine As you can see, not only are they difficult to decipher, they will almost definitely be the only image found when you search that hashtag. (If you even tried to search that hashtag!)
TIP: On a rare occasion you can use the long hashtags, just for the fun of it, and because it seems relevant to a particular image. But, as I said, as a general rule just stick to the basics.
5. Research industry-related hashtags. Not sure what hashtags to use? Go into Instagram or Twitter and do a little digging. Search for a hashtag that you use, or that’s relevant to your industry. Then scroll through the results. When you find posts you like, look to see what additional hashtags are used with that post. Write them down, and make a big list of options. Then when you are creating posts, you can refer to your list to pick the hashtags that are most relevant to that post.
TIP: Keep an eye on posts that got a lot of engagement, through likes, comments, and retweets. This might be an indicator of a platform with a large audience, and there’s a good chance that this means a lot of hashtags.
Bonus TIP: As you are researching hashtags, take note of the number of posts that are associated with each hashtag. Don’t try to use the ones that get the most posts or the least posts. Hashtags with millions of posts are the ones that are used heavily, and the preview content changes rapidly. Your post will quickly get lost in the crowd of other amazing posts. Instead, find hashtags with thousands, or tens of thousands, of results – those are desired and will be discovered, but not at a high enough rate for your post to be lost.
6. Only use relevant hashtags with each post. One thing I see a lot is that someone will come up with a list of hashtags, using as many hashtags as are allowed by a platform, and they will copy and paste that set of hashtags on every single post. But honestly, that’s a really lazy way to do marketing. That’s when you end up with a picture of a birthday cake and #waterbottle attached to it. That’s why, when you search a hashtag and you scroll through the results, you find that there are great results and completely unrelated results. Don’t be the guy who posts a wedding cake on the #waterbottle tag results.
TIP: Take the extra minute as you develop your post content to do it right. Use the relevant hashtags, and save the others for a different day and a different post.
7. Use hashtags primarily on Instagram and Twitter. This is really where they matter. You can use them on Facebook or Pinterest, but frankly they aren’t worth much on those sites. People aren’t really searching for hashtags on those sites. And if you overdo it on Facebook and Pinterest, the algorithms might think that you are posting spammy posts and they might hinder your reach. So on Instagram and Twitter, hashtag away. Otherwise, just use one or two if you feel that it helps make a statement.
TIP: Use up to 30 hashtags on Instagram. On Twitter just use as many as you can fit into your 140 characters per tweet!
Let’s talk about this: What would you add to this list? Or what challenges have you faced using hashtags?