Hashtags: If, where and how you should be using them

One of the questions that I am most frequently asked is, ‘Should I use hashtags?’ This comes up every time that I launch a new social media profile and every time I take over management of an existing profile. Once a categorising tool or a talking point for online forums, they have today become a part of our everyday language and often a necessity for online branding and promotion.

So, what is a hashtag and what do they do? I’m still surprised when asked this question, but it does come up more often than you’d expect. Very simply put, a hashtag is a metadata link used to define or personalise a message or image. The link is then grouped into a community archive and when clicked displays all other messages or images that have also used that hashtag.

Hashtags can be a powerful tool, but of course only when and where used correctly. The key networks where you’ll find hashtags being mentioned are on Facebook, Instagram and of course, Twitter – where the hashtag game really kicked off. As the years have passed, the way they have been used has drastically changed across each network;

  • Twitter: Essentially the founder of hashtags, as Twitter use has declined in Australia and the 140 characters available has become so crucial, it’s not as common that you will see a list of hashtags in the standard tweet. When used today, I tend to only include a single branded hashtag at the end of each tweet, to help make the brand name stand out.
  • Facebook: One of the later networks to adopt the hashtag tool, hashtags never really found an audience and took off on Facebook. This is specifically true for brands, as when used on a Facebook Page it most often takes traffic away rather than brings traffic to. For this reason, my personal best practice suggests not to use hashtags on Facebook.
  • Instagram: While Facebook never found an audience for hashtags, Instagram certainly did! This has helped Instagram establish as follower-focused, as opposed to friend-focused and has created the platform for the most 21st century job in existence: the almighty influencer. Hashtags on Instagram are critical for growth in both the hashtag archives and the search and finder tool.

If you’re like several of my clients who don’t necessarily understand what hashtags are, when to use them and how to use them, take a look at my top 5 tips to help make the process that little bit easier. Please note that these tips are Instagram-focused as this is the primary network where hashtags are and should be used.

  • 1) Do your research: On most social networks (but most specifically on Instagram), you can search for any hashtag and learn how popular that hashtag is by the number of posts using it and based on the most recent posts. This will help you weed out the ones that will be of no use to use to you, whether people simply aren’t using them or if people are using them too much, meaning your post could get lost within the mix. Avoid the ‘shortcut’ with free apps that claim to help you find the right hashtag for your post.
  • 2) Make them relevant: An obvious one – but one that needs to be said. Make sure the hashtags that you are using directly apply to the content that you are displaying, rather than your business as a whole or just to what’s trending at the moment. For example, let’s say you are a jewellery store uploading a photo of a necklace – it would make sense that you use the hashtag #jewellery or #necklace, but not that you use #engagementring, even if this is something your business specialises in.
  • 3) Mix it up: This leads on from the previous tip, encouraging you to change your hashtags based on the content at hand. If using the same hashtags in every post, your updates could become stale and perceive that strong ‘sell, sell, sell!’ mentality to your followers. Keep a few core hashtags as a base, such as your brand name, target location and industry type, then add a few that describe your product but that also show some personality.
  • 4) Sometimes, less is more: Did you know, there is a limit to the number of hashtags you can use in a single post? Yep, on Instagram it’s 30. But that doesn’t mean you should apply 30 hashtags… Instagram’s algorithm will recognise the number of hashtags you use in a post and then serve your post based on what it believes followers want to see, and in most cases that’s fewer hashtags. As a rule of thumb, don’t exceed 10 hashtags.
  • 5) Keep on top of the changing trends and algorithms: If social media is a large part of your overall digital marketing strategy, research will always be key. Keep an eye on the Facebook Newsroom, Instagram Blog and Twitter Blog for all of the latest updates that you need to be aware of – but also consider subscribing to some third-party digital marketing podcasts and blogs. Right now, I’m loving Small Business Big Marketing by Timbo Reid, Online Marketing Made Easy by Amy Porterfield and The Art of Paid Traffic by Rick Mulready. This is where you’ll learn about important updates, such as the recent Instagram ‘shadowban’.

Still not sure or need some help getting started? Get in touch with the Myadd team at myadd.com.au.