I believe there are two types of people in the world.
And those who refuse to use any.
Are either of them wrong? There are some unofficial rules on how and when to use hashtags in your social media posts. In this guide, I’ll outline:
- What are hashtags?
- Where did hashtags come from?
- Why you should use hashtags
- How to create a hashtag
- How hashtags are used on the most popular social media sites
- The “Do’s” and “Don’ts” on how to use hashtags in your posts
Let’s get started!
What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is word or phrase (not separated by commas) preceded by the hash or pound sign (#) and is used to aggregate social media content related to particular event or topic. With millions of social media posts published per minute, hashtags make it easier than ever to find the content or participate in the conversations you’re looking for.
Where did hashtags come from?
Hashtags originated on the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) in the late 1990s where they were used to sort videos, images, and other content into groups to make them easier to find. However, in August 2007, former Google and Uber developer lead Chris Messina tweeted this iconic idea:
Messina believed that creating a tagging system would give Twitter users the ability to cut find specific conversations and create inner circles of users with similar interests.
That same month, Messina’s idea was picked up and supported by blogger and Former research head at Gigaom, Stowe Boyd–the man credited with coining the term “hashtag”. In a 2017 interview with Wired, Boyd said:
“We started using them with our friends, but I never liked the name channels. My background was in computer science. The hash mark is one of the operators in C, and everybody I knew referred to it as the hash, right? Not pound. So the name came from programmer culture.”
And thus, the term “hashtag” was born–although it wasn’t officially adopted by Twitter until July of 2009. #ThanksChrisMessina #ThanksStoweBoyd
Why you should use hashtags
Today, we use hashtags for various reasons.
On the personal level, many of us use hashtags to archive photos, videos, and other updates from special occasions, such as weddings and family reunions. Hashtags are also popularly used to express an emotion (#mood), share a common experience (#ThatMomentWhen), spread the latest dance craze (#HarlemShake), and to spread awareness for a good cause (#IceBucketChallenge).
Businesses also recognize the power of using hashtags in their social media posts. Large corporations often start their own hashtags to promote their service or product, like Coca-Cola (#ShareaCoke), Verizon (#VerizonUp), and McDonald’s (#McDelivery).
Hashtags also make it significantly easier for brands to engage with their followers. For instance, many brands use hashtags to run contests, participate in trending topics, or curate tweets from a live event.
How to create a hashtag
The great thing about hashtags is that anyone can create and use them. If you want to create a hashtag for your next selfie or for your business, here’s what you should keep in mind:
- No special characters (i.e. !, $, &, ?, etc.), commas, periods, or spaces allowed. If you write “#Harry’s Razors,” the only word that will be hyperlinked and searchable will be “#Harry”. If you want to use more than two words or numbers in your hashtag, make sure you group them all together and lose any punctuation marks, like this: #HarrysRazors.
- You can use numbers in your hashtags, like #50ShadesofGrey. But you’ll commonly see numbers used at the end of hashtags, like #RSA2017 and #SuperBowl50.
- Capitalization doesn’t affect who can search for content under your hashtag. That means the content I find under #ShareACoke will be the same as #shareacoke.
- Keep in mind that hashtags do not work the same way as mentions (@). For instance, if I’m watching a Bruno Mars concert and I want other attendees to see my tweets about Bruno Mars, I’d use the hashtag #BrunoMars. If I want to thank Bruno Mars directly for an awesome show, then I’d include @BrunoMars in my post.
Using hashtags on social media
Now that you know how to create a hashtag, here’s how to use them on the most popular social media platforms.
We know hashtags are the best way of finding content and conversations, but Twitter offers much more than that.
Now, when you search for a hashtag, Twitter also shows you top news related to that topic, related searches, related articles, and also recommend Twitter accounts to follow.
Twitter recently added tabs that make it easy to find a specific type of content, including videos, photos, news headlines related to that topic, live streams, and Twitter accounts focused on that particular topic.
If you want to refine your search further, Twitter also allows you to filter content under a hashtag. Under the Search filters section, you can choose if you want to see tweets from any user or from Twitter accounts you follow, if you want to see tweets from anywhere or somewhere near you, or filter tweets by language.
Pro Tip: Read our blog post on Twitter Growth Hacks: Actionable Tactics to Boost Engagement
Similar to Twitter, Facebook also supports using hashtags in posts as a content discovery tool. When you click on or search for a hashtag, you’ll see content related to that topic, as well as relevant Facebook groups, posts from your Facebook friends related to that topic, and a robust menu to help you filter through your search results. Unlike Twitter, however, Facebook also shows relevant places, Facebook apps, and upcoming events in its search results.
Pro Tip: Check out our blog post on Facebook Growth Hacks: Actionable Tactics for B2B Lead Generation
Hashtags on Instagram are perfect for finding and sharing relevant photos and videos around a related topic. Whenever you search for a topic, Instagram will immediately display the total number of posts with that specific hashtag, as well as a list of similar tags and keywords.
In addition, Instagram will display top posts–posts with the most user engagement–and the most recent posts using that hashtag.
Most importantly, unlike Twitter or Facebook, Instagram encourages you to use multiple hashtags without looking “spammy”. For instance, if my Instagram post is about marketing (#marketing), consider using other relevant hashtags, like #marketingtips, #digitalmarketing, or #marketingstrategy.
Pro Tip: Need Instagram followers? Read Instagram Growth Hacks: Actionable Tactics To Grow Your Following–The Right Way
If you’re a business owner or a social media manager, and you’re not actively posting on your company’s Google+ for Business page, you could be making a big mistake. Since everything you post on your business page is immediately indexed by Google, it can help your business rank higher in search results.
Nonetheless, hashtags on Google+ do more than help you find relevant content. By searching for a hashtag on Google+, you’ll find relevant Google+ communities and pages with members of your target audience.
Pro tip: including hashtags in your Google+ posts will most likely get your posts to show up at the top of the hashtag’s search results.
If your company wants to market to a younger, “hip” audience, you may want to consider creating a company Tumblr page. Like Instagram, Tumblr is a perfect platform to express your company’s creative side by sharing videos, photos, infographics, GIFs, or memes.
For Tumblr posts, use a mix of both commonly searched hashtags, like #marketing, as well as hashtags that you create that curate content from your brand, like #LadderMarketing.
Pinterest is another social media platform businesses should consider adopting, especially retailers and e-commerce companies. This is a great place to share infographics, helpful checklists, and other visual content from a blog post or article your company publishes.
If you or your company has a Pinterest page, use relevant hashtags in your posts to organize your posts (known as “Pins”) on boards, and make them easier to find in searches.
When (and when not) to use hashtags
So you know how to create a hashtag and how they’re used on various social media platforms, but there are some unofficial rules you must know how to use hashtags in your social posts. Here are some standard “Do’s” and “Don’ts”.
Do use at least one hashtag on your social media post
If you’re sharing a company blog post, use the primary keyword of your post as your hashtag. That means if the primary keyword of my blog post is about an SEO optimization strategy, use #SEO or #marketingstrategy as your hashtag.
Don’t use more than three hashtags in a Twitter or Facebook post
By using more than three hashtags in a Facebook or Twitter post, there’s a good chance your post will come across as obnoxious, distracting, or spammy. As a good rule of thumb, use 1-2 hashtags per post. On Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, the three-hashtag limit doesn’t necessarily apply. On these platforms, 4-5 hashtags per post is the sweet spot.
Do use hashtags to share relevant content with a wider audience
If you choose to use the hashtag #marketing in your post, make sure your picture, video, or link is relevant to the topic of marketing. This will ensure that your content reaches your target audience and your brand will become a trusted source of marketing content.
Don’t “hijack” a hashtag
“Hashtag hijacking” involves using a hashtag in one of your posts that have absolutely nothing to do with that topic. Today, hashtag hijacking is a popular method for Internet trolls, spam bots, and brands that attempt to “hop on the bandwagon” of a trending topic. For example, never share a blog post about search engine optimization and use the hashtag #HurricaneMaria simply because it’s a trending news story. This can really hurt your brand’s reputation and turn off potential customers.
Do create your own hashtag
Many brands are creating their own hashtags to curate content about their brand or a sponsored event, like Coca-Cola’s signature #ShareaCoke or Google’s Keynote event #MadebyGoogle. Brands and influencers are also creating unique hashtags to conduct real-time Twitter chats with users, like AdWeek’s weekly #AdWeek Twitter chat. Get creative, and create a simple hashtag to represent your brand.
Don’t use “random” words or phrases as hashtags
When you create a hashtag, take some time to consider if someone would realistically search for that keyword or phrase. For instance, if I’m looking for content related to sports cars, I probably won’t search for “#exhaustpipe” or “#rearviewmirror. Instead, use common, recognizable words, like “sportscars” or “engine”.
Do make your hashtags short, simple, and memorable
Instead of using a super-long hashtag like, “#NewYorkFashionWeek2017”, keep it simple and truncate it to #NYFW17. This makes the hashtag easier to type and remember, and also saves you 16 characters in your tweet.