It is virtually impossible to log on to a social media platform without seeing hashtags. Because they have become so common, it can be tempting to simply start throwing a few hashtags here and there in your social posts. But before you start using them, you should understand what they are and how they function so you can choose the best hashtags for your business needs.
What are hashtags?
Simply put, hashtags are any word or phrase (without spaces) preceded immediately by pound or number sign (#). The use of hashtags began organically on Twitter with users adding them to their posts as a way to categorize their tweets. While that is still the way hashtags work across all social channels, many users also use hashtags to add an aside or sub-comment to their post, usually in a humorous way.
Why should I use hashtags?
There are two important reasons marketers should use hashtags in social media posts. First, because hashtags represent topics or categories of content (like #fashion or #naturalfoods), people search for and follow specific hashtags in which they are interested.
By adding relevant hashtags, you make it possible for social media users who might not know about your business to see your post. Hashtags are a great way to increase your reach organically. Second, simply adding hashtags to your posts has been shown to increase the amount of engagement it receives on Twitter and Instagram.
For these channels, hashtags are probably the fastest, easiest way to boost the engagement.
How do I pick the right hashtag?
There are a few ways to select hashtags. The easiest is to brainstorm possible terms or keywords that are relevant to your business and your company.
Then check each one on each social platform where you intend to use it, to make sure that it isn’t used for something completely different than your intended purpose. (For example: if you sell lifts for auto repair shops, you might be tempted to use #lift. Unfortunately, you’ll find that hashtag in wide use to designate posts related to weight lifting.)
Another option is to find and use trending hashtags, words or phrases that are being used by many users across the network. These are normally determined by current events or on-going trends like #ThrowbackThursday. This can be a great way to increase your reach even further.
Make sure your trending hashtags are relevant and genuine or you will be perceived as a spammer. Once you have a good grasp on the basics, you might begin using hashtags that are unique to your organization. This sort of hashtag would generally be associated with either a campaign or an event that is specific to your business.
For example, the hashtag #SXSW is used for the yearly South by Southwest conference. The hashtag #itsbanana is used by Banana Republic to encourage users to share images of themselves wearing the brand’s clothing.
When should I use hashtags?
Below are best practices for using hashtags on the major social channels:
- Twitter: Because of character count restrictions, limit the number of hashtags to two per tweet for best engagement.
- Instagram: The sky’s the limit here, with 11+ hashtags receiving the highest level of engagement.
- Facebook: While hashtags are clickable, posts without hashtags actually perform better than those with hashtags.
- Google+: while hashtags are automatically generated; you can also add hashtags, but there is not much evidence that hashtags affect engagement.
- Pinterest: While hashtags are clickable in descriptions, they aren’t terribly reliable as a search function yet and therefore they are not very valuable, except for branding purposes.
With these basics you are ready to start using hashtags in your own social posting. Test different hashtags and tactics to determine what provides the greatest increase in engagement and reach for your business.
Want a little help implementing hashtags in your social strategy? Need a strategy to begin with? Sign up for a Free Marketing Consultation and let’s work together to build a social media strategy that’s right for your business needs.