Are you confused about hashtag marketing and wondering how to navigate through the jungle of finding the right hashtags for your posts?
Hashtags seem to be on everyone’s agenda in social media circles lately, and for good reason. Put simply – they get eyeballs where they’re needed – namely on your posts or campaigns. All without putting your hand in your wallet.
But are you using hashtags intentionally?
This article will cover:
- What hashtags are and why they were invented
- How to use hashtags on each of the different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube)
- How to build a hashtag strategy/analyse your results
- And, as a bonus, you’ll discover some super useful hashtag generators and tools
What are hashtags?
Hashtags are clickable short words, abbreviations, or a series of words without spaces and punctuation joined with the number sign placed in front (#thisisahashtag). They link to a newsfeed search on social platforms, connecting your words with other related posts and conversations.
Using relevant hashtags in your social media posts can result in higher engagement as they are designed to create/continue conversations and tie them into a single stream.
Hashtags were invented by Chris Messina for Twitter, and first used on the platform on August 23rd, 2007 as a way of grouping tweets around certain subjects together for a better ‘eavesdropping’ experience. In the beginning people didn’t like them, claiming that they didn’t like how they looked. In fact, even Twitter’s co-founder – Evan Williams – told Chris that they were too nerdy to become mainstream.
Who would have thought back then that these neat little # signs would revolutionise the way we communicate on social media, often becoming the center point to key social movements and campaigns (#metoo and #blacklivesmatter constituting two of the most recent and prominent examples)? As the benefits outweighed their (ugly) looks, people realised they could enjoy more focused conversations, and hashtags quickly caught on.
Why use hashtags?
First and foremost hashtags make your posts searchable across a given platform/channel. This means that just by clicking on a certain hashtag (such as #ThrowBackThursday) you can easily join in on all the conversations/posts centered around that subject.
Hashtags can also put your social media posts into context and help create brand awareness; they orientate your audience and allow you to connect with people over trending topics.
Equally importantly, hastags are useful for social listening and monitoring; they are a great way to gather User Generated Content, or host contests and giveaways.
When hashtags are used correctly they can make sure your content gets to the right audience, which – long story short – means higher engagement and more followers.
How to use hashtags on the different social media platforms
Not all social media platforms are created equal when it comes to using hashtags. Whereas Twitter and Instagram users actively use hashtags in their posts, they have less significance on Facebook or Pinterest. As the social media landscape changes frequently, more and more platforms are working on creating a more sophisticated hashtag algorithm.
Most social media platforms have a way of working with hashtags, but they all have different rules, so let’s break these down by platform.
Due to its real-time nature, Twitter remains one of the quickest ways to reach and engage your target audience. Once someone clicks on a hashtag, they will be taken to a page that contains all the relevant posts around that topic, and they can easily join the conversation.
Twitter hashtag rules:
- As the 280 character limit includes the hashtags, it is advised not to use more than one to two laser-targeted hashtags per post. To save on these limits you can include your hashtags as part of your sentence (but note that this is frowned upon on other platforms).
- By default, the platform uses suggested hashtags in the ‘Trends for You’ tab; these are based on your location and the people that you already follow.
- If your audience has a different location, you might want to change your location in the Settings. Location-specific hashtags can help local businesses get more love and attention.
- If you want to find a hashtag that you already know, try either a simple or an advanced search or type your hashtag in the URL.
- Twitter has a unique hashtag option, called ‘Twitter Chats’. These are moderated public conversations organised around a specific topic (with a pre-determined hashtag) in a pre-determined time. These provide an opportunity for professionals to meet and share expertise, or by hosting a chat you can engage with your audience, or connect with influencers. Twitter Chats are a great way to increase reach and impressions.
- ‘Comment Threads’ work similarly to Twitter Chats, and are also growing in popularity. In these threads bloggers can not only include their comments in the threads, but also a link to their blog posts with an associated hashtag.
- Only use hashtags that are relevant to your post, as you can actually be reported for hashtag abuse.
Pro-tip: If you want to get results with your hashtag strategy try using ‘long-tailed’ keywords (e.g. instead of ‘ring’ use ‘diamond engagement ring’), instead of short and generic ones.
Instagram’s hashtag algorithm works similarly to Twitter’s, but instead of joining conversations together it joins relevant images together. When using targeted hashtags on your posts and stories your account can be discovered by new audiences, which translates to more engagement and followers.
Instagram hashtag rules:
- Instagram is a great place for ‘hashtag-stacking’, as you are allowed to use up to 30 hashtags in your posts, and up to 10 in your stories.
- This comes with a caveat though; do not add irrelevant hashtags to your posts, as you could be flagged.
- Users have the option of clicking on “Don’t Show For This Hashtag” option if they feel you’re abusing hashtags. This means that your posts will be shown less by Instagram, or possibly even not shown at all.
- Do not use the same hashtags for all of your posts as this will result in lower impressions.
- You can follow hashtags, just as you would follow accounts on the platform.
- Your bio becomes searchable if you add hashtags to it. As the real estate on your bio is only 140 characters, make sure you use it wisely, and only add hashtags if they are super relevant.
- To search for hashtags go to the ‘Explore’ tab (magnifying glass at the bottom of your screen). Instagram offers “Related Hashtags” when you search the site (these can be found as suggestions underneath the hashtag you were searching for, and you can scroll through them sideways). You will find posts with the most engagement in the “Top Post” section, and a live stream of posts in the “Most Recent” section.
Pro tip: to avoid your hashtags looking cluttered and spammy, here are a few smart tricks for you: leave a few line breaks in between your caption and your hashtag section (to do this type your caption on your phone’s Notes app, then copy it to Instagram, or use an app like GramSpacer), or you can just add your hashtags in the first comment to keep your caption section tidy.
Within your stories you can easily hide your hashtags by putting a GIF on top of them (pinch your hashtags and make them small before placing a GIF to cover them).
Facebook didn’t allow the use of hashtags up until 2013. Even though the use of hashtags isn’t significant on the platform just yet, experts seem to agree that they could become impactful with future changes in the Facebook algorithm.
Facebook hashtag rules:
- Because of Facebook’s privacy settings, your post with a hashtag won’t show up in the feed unless it is set to public.
- Using more than 2-3 hashtags per post could result in a significant drop in engagement.
- Using hashtags in the middle of the sentence can lead to bad user experience.
- Hashtags with 10+ characters are said to get more engagement.
- One way to find if a hashtag is working on Facebook is to type that phrase into the search bar at the top of the page, and see what results it brings up.
- Hashtags can work well for a specific campaign, as the thread related to the campaign can come up in one click when the relevant hashtag is searched.
Even though hashtags aren’t a prevalent strategy on Facebook just yet, experts suggest that page owners should still use them in their posts. They work best for branded content to keep brand consistency across all channels, and to cross-promote your content across your other social media channels.
Hashtags have only been allowed on Pinterest since 2017.
You can either use keywords or hashtags for searching on Pinterest. You might ask, aren’t hashtags like keywords then? Well, yes and no. Hashtags are another form of promotion for a pin, in addition to keywords. For example, they can help increase awareness of your brand by grouping your content together. This is important because Pinterest is a search-engine, so it takes time for your post to show up in the search engine results – whereas if you have added a hashtag to your post it will show up immediately.
Pinterest hashtag rules:
- Pinterest wants us to use hashtags that are relevant to the content of pins because hashtags are used as wide search phrases.
- As opposed to Instagram, the hashtags you use on Pinterest have to be descriptive, otherwise they might be considered spam. Pinterest takes spam seriously, and it can get your account banned. You don’t want that because reinstating your account is a long process.
- Hashtags should be added to the description part of your pin.
- No point updating old pins with hashtags, because hashtags are shown in reverse chronological order (newest first).
- Whereas it is possible on some social media platforms to go back and edit your post, this isn’t true for Pinterest, so pick your hashtags wisely.
- When typing in your hashtags, Pinterest’s hashtag generator will help you by finding related hashtag suggestions for you, and will also show you the exact number of pins that contain them.
- You can use up to 20 hashtags per posts, but Pinterest recommends using only a few (2-6 is usually the sweet spot).
- Hashtags can also be added in the comments. However, there is no point in using hashtags in your Pinterest bio, board names/descriptions and profiles (as these are not searchable).
YouTube first introduced the hashtag function in 2016. YouTube is similar to Pinterest in the sense that it is a search engine, so when used correctly hashtags can have a positive effect on your views, ranking and searchability.
- Hashtags can tie the videos from your channel together and help identify a specific topic.
- The hashtags you use should be descriptive, and compliment keywords to better understand your video content.
- The maximum amount of hashtags you can use on YouTube is 15 (anything more than that and the platform might even flag your account), but the optimal number is said to be 2-3.
- You can add hashtags in your video title (up to 3 hashtags) or in the description.
- You can also set a location hashtag via the mobile app, which will be displayed above the title.
- Check your YouTube Analytics and Traffic Sources to find if your hashtags have successfully generated views.
One thing to keep in mind when using hashtags on YouTube: if people are in the middle of watching your video, the hashtag may lure them away and on to a different video half way through. Of course, you can benefit from the flip side of this – with people being led to your video by clicking on a hashtag from somebody else’s content.
Hashtag Strategies (how to track, monitor and analyse hashtags)
As with all things social media marketing, you need to have a strategic purpose when using hashtags – whether it’s for brand awareness or monitoring brand presence, a specific campaign or product launch, or simply just getting involved in conversations. This objective will determine what hashtags you should be using.
7 tips to find the best hashtags for your posts
- Look at hashtags your target audience is already using and searching for
- Look at your competitors’ hashtags
- Research industry leaders/influencers in your niche and check the hashtags they are using
- Use apps with hashtag suggestion features (e.g. Later, Flick)
- Check your hashtag analytics
- Always check the hashtag policies of each platform
- Avoid using banned hashtags
Keep your hashtags specific and tight, don’t go ‘carpet-bombing’ your post with every word in the dictionary. It’s not just frustrating for your audience, it risks getting you banned.
Create hashtag lists and save your best hashtag groups for future use. The best way of doing this is simply by using your phone’s Note app; it can save a great amount of time having a few hashtag groups pre-saved, and when you post something new all you have to do is copy and paste your relevant hashtags.
This may sound obvious, but make sure you know what they mean! When using hashtags, research them first, as they may not mean what you think they do. (Here’s looking at you Chester Literary Festival’s #CLitFest, Susan Boyle’s infamous #susanalbumparty and Research In Motion’s #RIMJobs…)
If you’re not sure about the meaning of a hashtag, have someone proofread it or check its definition in TagDef.
Make sure to track and analyse your hashtags. The easiest tools for this are the in-app analytics tools that will show you the main metrics from your hashtag activities on each of your posts. But be aware: some platforms require you to have business accounts to access to these tools.
Third party tools can help with hashtag generation and further analysis:
RiteTag – generates hashtag suggestions based on real time hashtag engagement
Keyhole – hashtag tracking and analytics tool for monitoring and market research (Twitter and Instagram)
Trendsmap – explores trending hashtags on Twitter by location
Hastagify – for finding, monitoring and analysing hashtags
Later – this platform is for everything Instagram related, from scheduling and designing your post feed to analytics and hashtags. It also offers Pinterest scheduling.
Ultimately – frustrating though they may be – hashtags are a vital component for increasing your organic growth and gaining engagement. As platforms are making their hashtag algorithm more and more sophisticated, it’s time to level-up your hashtag game.
- Use hashtags sparingly, only to add value/description
- Don’t overdo hashtags (Hint: #This #Is #Annoying)
- Keep them simple and memorable
- Keep your hashtags relevant to your niche, audience and/or your specific posts, as most platforms have strict penalties for hashtag abuse
- Analyse your results
What other hashtag tips do you have? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Designer. Founder of Trendeavour. Fashion & retail specialist by day, content creator & digital marketing geek by night. Coffee and instagram addict. Crazy about her dog.