Hashtags do not have to be intimidating. They should be fun and useful, but many people either abuse hashtags or shy away from using them due to concerns about using them correctly. Hashtags are vital tools in social media, particularly on Twitter and Instagram, so understand the basics, follow a few simple techniques, and you will be hashtagging like a pro!
Why to Hashtag
Hashtags let you find content, and help your content get found in a busy social media world. At Polka Dot Impressions, we call it a way to “magnetize” your content. All hashtags are searchable. In fact, that is another way to describe hashtags. They make any piece of content immediately searchable, creating a unique URL feed around the hashtag you use. That URL might be a list of tweets on Twitter, posts on G+, or pictures on Instagram, but searching for a particular hashtag creates a unique feed of customized content.
Hashtags are also used to create searchable communities around a brand or perhaps a live event. The brand or personalized event hashtag lets others join in the conversation by seeing what everyone is saying on that topic. This is much like creating an open chat room in social media.
Another use for hashtags is to mobilize Fans or Followers to share your content. Businesses may ask Fans to use a particular hashtag to share a comment, which is similar to joining the conversation, but sometimes this strategy is used to multiply the number of people talking about your business. This creates larger brand awareness and turns your Fans or Followers into Brand Advocates.
Now that you know why to hashtag, let’s look at the “how” behind them.
How to Hashtag
What’s the Point?
The first step in determining your hashtag(s) is in deciding why you want to use them. In other words, what do you want to have identified as your topic? Or said another way, what would someone search for that should generate your piece of content? Identify your purpose before determining which hashtag(s) to use.
Keep It Simple
Some people overuse hashtags in their posts. That makes it more difficult to read the content, and you only have a few seconds to get someone’s attention with your social media post. You can certainly use more than one hashtag in a post, but avoid the temptation to use too many hashtags.
How many is too many? That depends. On Twitter, based on the number of characters you have to use, you should probably limit the number to 3 or 4 at most. Fewer is fine, too, especially if you are trying to brand your organization or keep a live event going through your hashtag. On Google+ you will want to keep the number of hashtags down to 1 or 2, and 1 is usually better. Instagram, on the other hand, allows for the largest number of hashtags, but focus first on the image and any content you have to share with it, and keep in mind that if you use a lengthy string of hashtags, you may get some Likes on your photo, but you will probably not gain a lot of new Followers. (Remember, have a purpose when using hashtags.)
Don’t Be a Pretender
This can take several forms with hashtags. Using a trending hashtag on your unrelated post, just to “ride the wave” of that hashtag’s popularity is one example. Trending hashtags are trending for a reason, but if you try to throw your content into a conversation that has no connection to you, you will make yourself or your brand look bad, and to a large audience at that!
Another form of this is consistently using someone else’s hashtag to spam their audience with your content. Unfortunately, when this happens it is usually someone who is posting questionable content with someone else’s legitimate hashtag in order to ruin that brand’s good social media presence. For obvious reasons, avoid using hashtags this way.
Do Some Research
For branding purposes, many organizations use hashtags regularly. Some have actually developed very robust social media campaigns around a particular hashtag. Take the time to do a search on any hashtag you want to begin using for your business so that you know what is already being done with that hashtag. No one can “own” a hashtag, but that does not mean that every hashtag is worth using. You may have to decide whether it’s worth it to use the hashtag you want, or whether you need to creatively choose another one for branding your content.