You see them everywhere these days: hashtags. Denoted by the pound sign (#), hashtags have become ubiquitous in social media. First created by Twitter users as a way to categorize posts by topic, hashtags are popular today on many social media platforms, from Pinterest to Facebook. You can hashtag virtually anything – feelings, ideas, brands or groups, places and events, and the list goes on.
But what users often don’t realize is that hashtags are more than just a few pithy words that show up in social media posts. Not only do they organize your content, they also increase your exposure by helping users with mutual interests to find you. For example, in a post about climate change, you might include the hashtag #GlobalWarming. When users click on that hashtag on any page (not just your own), your post will show up in a feed containing all the posts about that topic.
For businesses especially, using popular, relevant hashtags can help you cultivate a following. In fact, as a consultant to many small businesses, one of the most common questions I’m asked is how to use hashtags in social media marketing. Read on to find out!
Hashtags can help cultivate a following.
The 5 Golden Rules of Using Hashtags
Do Your Research. Do your homework on hashtags! Whether you’re coming up with your own or using one that’s already trending, always check to see how a hashtag is being used before employing it yourself. That includes researching how a hashtag is used on specific social networks. For example, people use hashtags differently on Twitter than on Instagram, and each network has guidelines to help you.
Hashtags are only useful when people use the same keywords, so find out which hashtag is most popular or relevant to your subject. On the flip side, you don’t want to accidentally “hijack” a hashtag that has a sensitive meaning already attached. Check resources like Hashtags.org, TweetChat.com, or Twubs.com to find real-time information on trending hashtags and conversations.
Stay Focused. Make your hashtags as specific as possible. Keeping a narrow focus will help you choose hashtags that are relevant and meaningful to your posts. For example, instead of using the hashtag #writers, you might opt for something more specific like #FictionWriters. At the same time, keep your hashtags short and simple; people likely won’t want to type (or remember) a long and complicated hashtag.
Use Sparingly. Don’t spam your own social media posts by hashtagging every single word. This can be distracting, and it can take importance away from each individual keyword. According to Twitter Fan Wiki, “A good rule of thumb to follow is to focus on your update first, and only if it quantitatively adds value, to append one to three hashtags.” This bears repeating: Not 10, not even 5, but a maximum of one to three hashtags.
Use these hashtags where they make the most sense. For instance, if you already have keywords within your post, simply hashtag those words. If not, don’t awkwardly shoehorn hashtags into the text of your post; it’s perfectly acceptable (and expected) to place one or two hashtags as a “postscript” after the body of your post.
Check Your Form. A misspelled or mistyped hashtag stands out like a sore thumb (plus, it becomes meaningless if it doesn’t match the keywords other people are using). Always double-check spelling and grammar before posting.
If your topic includes multiple words, make sure to put them both in the same hashtag (instead of #global #warming, use #GlobalWarming). As in this example, you’ll want to capitalize the first letter of each word to increase readability and eliminate any confusion. Why? Combining words could inadvertently change the interpretation of your hashtag, so make sure people understand which word is which.
Exercise Caution. Hashtags may seem innocuous, but one small mistake can easily turn into a PR nightmare. To avoid this, always exercise caution – especially when you’re inventing your own hashtags. Before posting, always do the following:
Check the meanings of any acronyms before using them
Review for alternative interpretations when you’re combining words
Consider any negative ways your hashtag could be used
Read your hashtags aloud… multiple times
Always run your hashtags by someone else to make sure you haven’t missed anything
Now that you know the golden rules of using hashtags, you’re ready to start using them in your social media marketing! #SuccessAwaitsYou