The Art of the Hashtag

Hashtags, once used by Twitter users to make posts searchable have become common practice across all social media channels; however, their use is very different from platform to platform. Have you mastered the art of the hashtag?

Twitter

What… 

Hashtags were initially only used on Twitter and were for categorising the content of the tweet, popular hashtags would then trend. 

How to use… 

There are a couple of rules when it comes to hashtags.  Firstly, how you use them and how many you use. Here are two examples of a tweet conveying a message with the use of hashtags:

Twitter hashtag example.jpg

The first one includes hashtags that the user thinks other people will search for… it’s unlikely that any of those hashtags will trend - with the exception of Christmas which will be widely used throughout the season and will move so quickly that you would not gain anything from adding a #.  

There are two main things that are wrong with this tweet, the use of hashtags makes it look “spammy” by this I mean it looks desperate to be seen by other people, it also makes it hard to read.  The other is that there are too many hashtags, statistics show that more than one hashtag can drive down engagement on the post. It may, however, increase reach if the hashtags are correctly used. Depending on your goal use more than one hashtag with caution. I would personally recommend you never use more than three. 

Another minor point is that hashtags are generally used at the end of the tweet as a point of reference rather than within the tweet. This does not affect it’s discoverability it’s just best practice. 

The second example contains a similar message, however, two trending hashtags have been used on the end of the tweet. The hashtags are relevant to the content of the tweet and because the hashtag is trending both the reach and engagement should increase. 

Trending hashtags are a great way to gleam exposure for your account, however, use with caution. As with all hashtags, relevancy is key. With great disappointment, I have seen some smaller brands trying too hard to be seen by jumping onto hashtags of other businesses. One small business came up in my twitter feed as they had tried to join in on the #BusterTheBoxer John Lewis Christmas Ad hashtag as well as #HolidaysAreComing, the CocaCola hashtag. Both were used for self-promotion rather than conversation. The brand in question asked if their audience were excited that the #HolidaysAreComing and suggested they bought a specific item from their website to celebrate. This is not the appropriate way to utilise a trending hashtag. A more appropriate way would be to engage with other users who were using the hashtag, by liking and replying to their tweets, therefore spreading awareness of their business. Misuse of hashtags can make your brand memorable.. for all the wrong reasons! Do not add trending hashtags to your tweets just to be seen! Another misuse of hashtags is jumping on current affairs when your account has no involvement with them, the passing of celebrities is a popular hashtag many businesses jump on just to be seen. If the celebrity has no connection to your brand, don’t get involved. i.e. if your business has nothing to do with music or the music industry, don't share a gushy post about the death of a loved pop-star just to use the hashtag and be seen by others. 

There are many hashtags that trend every week on specific days; these are great hashtags to get involved with (again NOT for self-promotion), hashtags such as #MotivationMonday, #WednesdayWisdom and #FridayFeeling are always popular and content can be prepared in advance by way of a motivational quote or saying. Using a tool such as Canva makes it easy to create an eye-catching asset with your branding on that will then hopefully be shared by others but always link back to you. 

#ThrowbackThursday or #TBT is also a great hashtag to get involved with, you can share an archive image or some nostalgia that your followers will appreciate.

Instagram 

What…

Hashtags are vital for the discoverability and growth of your Instagram account. Without hashtags, your posts will only be seen by your followers and nobody else. If you want to grow your following using the correct hashtags are essential. 

How to use…

Instagram permits you to use up to 30 hashtags per post and all 30 should be used - if you do not use hashtags/the right hashtags you are limiting the discoverability of your account and you may as well set your profile to private and limit your posts to your current audience.  I see a lot of users trying to use hashtags but not using them in the correct way. Do not use hashtags that just describe the image such as #love #jewellery #ring #diamond etc, not only are these hashtags over saturated (at the time of writing #love has 984,767,427 posts!), even if someone happened to be looking at all the images in the #love category your post would drop quickly in the feed and will only be seen by a handful of users. The correct and most effective way to use hashtags is to join in with the communities within Instagram. There are millions of hashtag communities within Instagram and by searching for one of them more will come up along the top of the search bar suggesting others you may like to use. What is a hashtag community I hear you ask? A community hashtag is a selection of images that all relate to one field, for example #underthefloralspell was created by Flowerona, florist and Instagram user and has over 50,000 posts of floral displays, shared by other flower lovers on Instagram. Using this particular hashtag is much more likely to help you gain new followers and engagement than if you just used #flowers. 

Do your research before adding hashtags, have a look at what types of image feature under that particular hashtag and decide whether your image will fit with others - if the answer is yes then add it, you could also click on other images using that hashtag to see what others are using to help inspire you to find more communities to join. Try and choose a selection of hashtags that have differing volumes of use, try and add 10 hashtags that have over 20,000 posts, 10 hashtags with under 10,000 posts and 10 with under 1000 posts,  this will help you reach different audiences. 

Once you have your 30 hashtags copy them into your Notes app on your phone and add 5 full stops or bullet points before the hashtags. Once you have posted your photo and your caption add a comment with your hashtags including your 5 full stops. The hashtags will still be discoverable but it won’t clutter up your caption. As soon as you have posted pop into the communities of each of the hashtags you have chosen and engage with some of the images in each hashtag, this will help drive engagement with your post. More on that in another blog post. 

Facebook

What… 

Facebook’s hashtags are basically tags used to categorise conversations between users.

How to use…

There is a lot of conflicting research out there on whether hashtags should be used at all on Facebook. Some say that they negatively effect engagement, others say as long as you only use 1 or 2 carefully chosen then they can actively increase engagement. My opinion is to use them like you would on Twitter but only hashtag if it’s really relevant to your business. 

LinkedIn

What…

Up until September 2016, I would have said no, do not use them, then do not do anything and are completely pointless. However, everyone's favourite professional network has finally joined in with hashtags and they had to say…

“Hashtags included in your posts (or others) are now tappable and lead to search results so that you can discover other posts with the same hashtag. Simply add a hashtag to your post and it will be automatically available publicly, or if you want it to be only visible to your connections you can easily change your sharing settings (more on privacy below). As you would expect, you can also search for a hashtag to see all public posts tagged with it.”

How to use…

It’s early days as to whether this increases your discoverability and engagement, however, there is no harm in trying. As per my recommendations for Facebook, go cautiously and use hashtags only when they are relevant to your content and limit you to 1 or 2. 

Hopefully, this has clarified some of the mystery around hashtags and how to best use them on each platform.

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