Hashtags: Friends or Foes?

How funny does it look when you see an article on LinkedIn and its title is such a stack of hashtags that it makes it almost impossible to read? Yet, a Tweet with 2 or more hashtags seems perfectly normal. The source of your different reactions are the different and often unspoken rules of hashtags that each social media platform has.

Before we dig into the appropriate use of hashtags, it’s important to understand what hashtags are and why we use them. According to the Oxford American Dictionary  (yes, because hashtags are now part of the definitions recognised by this and other dictionaries) a hashtag is:

n. (on social networking websites such as Twitter) a hash or pound sign (#) used to identify a particular keyword or phrase in a posting.

What this means is that, in general terms, hashtags are used to identify content on social media. On most platforms, people interested in a specific theme or interest type the relevant hashtag to find content that has already been “tagged” by other people and businesses. In this way, the hashtag allows people to connect and engage with other users on a common theme or interest. For example, by typing #SixNationsRugby in Twitter search, Twitter will show a list of news, people, chats, photos and more all linked by the same hashtag.

how to use hashtags

For businesses, this is particularly important because it makes their content discoverable. By using the right hashtags businesses have the chance to increase traffic, clicks and engagement.

Businesses can also create their own hashtag campaigns, like #PutACanOnIt by Red Bull or #ShareaCoke by Coca Cola

However, each social media platform has its unique purpose and as such, it also has its own take on hashtags. The following is a list of some of the most popular social platforms and how hashtags works there:

Twitter

Hashtags were invented on Twitter to enable Tweets to be categorised with other posts on the same subject. It is recommended to keep the number of hashtags to a maximum of 3 per Tweet and to capitalize every letter of each word in the hashtag. After all, with only 140 characters available you want to avoid your Tweet to become illegible!

Businesses should also check what the most popular hashtags are prior to choosing which one to use. There are a lot of online platforms that search Twitter to track how many people use certain hashtags, these include hashtags.org, hashtagify.me, Rite Tag

Facebook

While Facebook does allow hashtags, most Facebook profiles are private so individuals don’t tend to use them as much. The main purpose for Facebook users to utilise hashtags is to describe a post, usually an image, like they would do on Instagram (see below). Businesses however, like influencers and other public profiles, might use hashtags in their posts to make their content searchable. A couple of rules when using hashtags on Facebook include limiting the number to 1 or maximum 2 hashtags (afterwards engagement lowers) and “Don’t put your #hashtag in the middle of the #sentence. That makes #reading the sentence #annoying. See? Instead, write out your whole post. At the bottom of the post, add the hashtags” (Janet Johnson)

Instagram

On Instagram hashtags work slightly differently. While they still help categorise and find topics, they are also widely used on photos and videos as a description of the content. That’s why it’s not surprising to see a photo with many hashtags.

As Instagram accounts can be public, anyone who searches for a specific hashtag may find individual as well as business Instagram posts.

One of the advantages of Instagram is that it’s easier compared to other platforms for users to find trendy topics to use for their post. When writing a new post, start typing in a hashtag using the # symbol, and Instagram will suggest hashtags to you based on their popularity.

Pinterest

While Pinterest allows the use of hashtags, at the time of writing, they are not very useful in terms of categorising or researching topics. They are not clickable, and even searching by hashtags will return results that don’t contain the specific hashtag but just the same term in the title or description.

However, if you are running a hashtags campaign on other platforms there is no harm in using it on Pinterest too to see how well the campaign is performing cross-border.

Snapchat

Snapchat does not use hashtags as such, but its users have a different way of tagging each other and their snaps: geofilters. These are the decoration that users can add with the name of a city or neighbourhood and that can now be designed by Snapcahtters and brands (of course). While designing a filter is chargeable, using it is free and it opens the way for people to one-up each other.

LinkedIn

The relationship between the professional social platform and hashtags is a complex one: LinkedIn allowed the use of hashtags until 2013 when it rolled it back for poor results among users. In 2016, hashtags were re-introduced but they seem to only work with the LinkedIn mobile app so that desktop users are not able to use them for posts or search purposes.

In Summary

The above list of social media platforms is not exhaustive, but in summary: hashtags are a critical component in social media, however you need to know how to use them and where.

After all, you want to avoid to become a hashtag horror story or a parody: “#Hashtag” with Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)

 

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