We all know hashtags, we all use them, they’ve even become a pop culture favorite. They’re basically everywhere, online and offline. But even though we might be more or less familiar with hashtags on social media, have you ever wondered how they started, why we actually use them across different social media platforms and how they can help your social media marketing? So let’s take a look at the basics and get reintroduced to the concept of hashtags.
The history of the hashtag
According to the Oxford English dictionary, a hashtag is “a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter to identify messages on a specific topic.”
But where did the hashtag come from? Long before its official definition by the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014, the hashtag made its first appearance on Twitter in 2007. The first person to use it? Chris Messina, a former Google employee, who suggested the # sign as a way to label tweets.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— ☞ Chris Messina ☜ (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
Why hashtags are useful
One might wonder, why are hashtags even used? As the definition itself suggests, hashtags are a great technique to tag your content and make sure that it reaches your target audience. In a way, hashtags have become a way to filter social media buzz and gather the masses around topics of common interest.
Hyperlinked hashtags might have started from Twitter but they quickly spread throughout social media platforms with Google+ being the first network, other than Twitter to introduce them in 2012 and Facebook following in 2013.
Hashtags can be a powerful tool in the hands of social media marketers for several reasons:
- Hashtags allow them to connect with their audience across platforms in a consistent, unified way.
- They help amplify you message and boost a brand’s visibility.
- Hashtags make content easier to discover given that hashtags work as hyperlinks and a new way for people to search for specific content on different platforms.
- They allow marketers to launch integrated marketing campaigns across platforms.
- Hashtags can help start your own discussions with your community or jump into conversations already happening.
- Hashtags maximize social media engagement.
Social media science has proved that on certain platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, hashtags are indeed a driver of engagement. According to social media scientist Dan Zarrella, Instagram posts that include hashtags have a much higher like-to-follower ratio than posts that don’t. On Twitter, tweets that contain one or more hashtags are 55% more likely to be retweeted than tweets that don’t.
How to use hashtags across platforms
How many hashtags are too many? Are there any specific requirements on using hashtags across platforms? What it is important to keep in mind is that while one hashtag may work just as well across platforms, each platform has some certain specifics when it comes to the purpose of hashtags and how exactly they’re used.
The hashtag is meant to group and help keep track of similar information around a particular subject. Generally speaking, every time a user adds a hashtag to a post, this message instantly becomes searchable and is indexed by the platform. This means that when someone clicks on that hashtag, they will be brought to a page that aggregates all of the posts with the same hashtagged keyword in real-time.
But let’s get into the specifics of using hashtags on each platform.
Twitter is the home of hashtags. So as such, the way hashtags are used is multifaceted. Hashtags are a way to be a part of a larger conversation with other Twitter users.
They are meant to tag and categorise information under a specific subject and define specific topics of conversation. Twitter hashtags have been used several times in the past as a tool to follow worldwide events.
Other than that, Twitter hashtags have been used quite extensively to set the tone and convey voice and character.
Twitter hashtags can potentially be a major driver of traffic if they are used wisely. Even though only 10% of tweets include a hashtag, 21% of retweets contain hashtags.
However, the more the hashtags the less the engagement of your tweets. In fact, tweets with one or two hashtags have 21% more engagement than tweets with more. After the third hashtag, tweets engagement has been found to drop by 17%.
Although it’s been two years since Facebook introduced hashtags, this feature has not really caught on with Facebook’s userbase mainly because the majority of accounts have certain privacy settings. Facebook has tried to reinforce hashtags especially around significant events such as the Super Bowl. However, Facebook hashtags remain more relevant for pages rather than individual users and it seems that using hashtag on Facebook has not really become as much of a habit as on other platforms.
Nonetheless, Facebook hashtags can potentially help you expand your post’s reach something that has becoming more and more of a challenge after Facebook’s algorithm changes. In addition to this, on a medium more fragmented than Twitter, hashtags can help you connect with people discussing the same topic and make your posts easier to discover.
Clicking on a hashtag on Facebook will take you to a list of posts containing the same hashtags. Searching for a hashtags on Facebook can also work for discovering content from other platforms such as Instagram.
What is important to keep in mind about Facebook hashtags is that posts with more then two hashtags tend to score lower engagement.
Well, the best thing about Google+ is that even when you don’t use hashtags you actually do. Even if you don’t add any hashtags to your copy, if there’s enough text in your post, Google+ will scan your copy for keywords and automatically assign it to hashtags.
One of the major advantages of using hashtags on Google+ is the fact that you can boost your visibility since your posts are much easier to be discovered given that you can use hashtags in your posts as well as in the comments.
More than that, Google+ related hashtags are perhaps the most useful tool for a social media marketer as they allow you to tap into other relevant conversations and boost your reach, measure the importance of topics, find new and relevant connections or get content ideas.
Instagram is hashtag paradise. The platform allows for up to 30 hashtags officially but before you think #YOLO #LetsGoCrazyOnHashtags keep in mind that in terms of engagement it is preferable to keep it under 10 per post. In fact, using 7 hashtags per post, generates by far the most engagement on Instagram.
Similar to other platforms, Instagram hashtags are primarily used to categorize content and make posts easier to discover through search also on other platforms such as Facebook.
Because hashtags on Instagram are so popular, a smart strategy is to use a mix of top hashtags and relevant hashtags that are descriptive to your post, product, industry and niche.
Even though hashtags on Pinterest aren’t as popular as on other social media platforms they are still supported for quite some time now. Similar to Facebook hashtags, on Pinterest hashtags are not a necessity but they do help you rank your content in search results. In other words, hashtags represent topics and this is why they are mostly descriptive of the content of the pin.
When searching by hashtag on Pinterest, search results will include all types of words and phrases from the hashtag, making hashtags on Pinterest even less of a necessity for your content strategy.
How to pick the right hashtags to use
There’s no doubt that hashtags are useful for your social media marketing across platforms. The questions is, how can you find the best and most relevant hashtags? Here’s a few tools to help you out.
Even though TweetDeck is not technically a hashtag searching tool, it is a great tool for monitoring competition. Make a Twitter list of your competitors and add it as a separate column on your TweetDeck dashboard. This way, you have the Twitter feeds of your competitors all in one place and you can easily compile a list of hashtags that stand out. This will provide you with a quick overview of the hashtags you should be using as well and an indication of what your target audience might be interested in.
Hashtags.org is a tool that provides you with popular hashtags within different categories such as entertainment, business, environment and so on. You can also search for specific hashtags and get an overview of trends, definitions, related tweets that contain this hashtag, as well as related hashtags.
Yes, you guessed it right. This tool maps the most popular hashtags by location making it easier for you to search for hashtags within your region. It can ben an excellent tools for brands that wish to reach out to audience in a specific location or to search what the Twitter buzz is in their area.
This tool is great for visualising correlations among hashtags and discovering relevant hashtags around a specific topic. You can start with a general hashtag for your industry and see which other hashtags are used along with it. Keep in mind that the size of each circle represents the popularity of the hashtags and the length of the lines connecting your search query to the related hashtags reflects how relevant these hashtags are.
RiteTag’s browser extension is a quite a useful tool for estimating the potential visibility of your tweet. RiteTag uses color coding to categorize the hashtags and notify you whether the hashtag you just typed is not used, overused or just right for amplifying your message and increasing its chances of being discovered.
Twitter Counter’s Twitter tracker allows you to track the volume of tweets around a specific hashtag or group of hashtags. The tool provides segments the volume of tweets per hour and per day and provides you with a list of the Twitter accounts that use this hashtag the most, as well as a list of the influential accounts that include this hashtag in their tweets. Twitter tracker is quite handy when it comes to monitoring a hashtag campaign or the popularity of the hashtags you are using and it is free for our premium users.
Twchat is a platform that allows you to discover interesting Twitter chats you can participate in but also create and moderate your own chats for your community. Quite useful if you are planning to actively use Twitter chats as a marketing tool.
Websta is a very useful tool for discovering popular hashtags on Instagram and is especially useful if you’re just starting with the platform. You can either search for hashtags you might already be using to see the volume of posts per hashtag, or check the most popular Instagram hashtags ranked by their popularity.
How to start your own hashtag
First off, why would you want to start your own unique hashtag when there are so many popular, relevant hashtags out there to help you connect with your audience, right? Well, there are different reasons why creating your own hashtag can help your social media marketing:
- Hosting a Twitter chat.
- Hosting an online Q&A.
- To promote a product launch.
- Marketing campaigns and contests.
Let’s take a look at some key points you should pay attention to when starting your own hashtag:
Since you are looking to engage your community and start a new conversation of your own, it is important that before you share own unique, ideal hashtag with the world you do some research to investigate whether this hashtag is being used and under which context. This is something that you can easily find out by running a search on the platforms you want your content to show.
If you want your new unique hashtag to catch on, you should go for something that is specific enough and easy to remember and understand. Inside jokes or something too complicated might not work in this case. A good example is Nike’s #justdoit that is used successfully across platforms.
Cross-promoting your hashtags across different social media channels gives more exposure and of course makes it even easier for your audience to remember it.
Hashtag mistakes you should avoid
Even though hashtags have become an integral part of a user’s social media experience and a useful social media marketing tool, hashtag mistakes are not uncommon. I am not going to say that using too many hashtags on Twitter or not promoting your hashtags across channels are huge mistake because you and I both know they are.
So let’s take a look at three hashtag mistakes that if you actually make can have a big negative impact on your brand.
Mistake #1: Hashtag hijacking like a noob.
A trending or a highly successful hashtag is very tempting to social media marketers. However, hijacking a popular social media hashtag can do more harm that good to your brand if your contribution to the conversation is irrelevant. Back in 2009, Habitat UK used Twitter trending topics to promote its own content. The worst tweet was a promotion that used the #MOUSAVI hashtag, taking advantage of what was going on in Iran at the time.
Long story short, if you want to jump on the bandwagon of real-time marketing, you need to be smart and well-prepared. A good example of a brand that has mastered quick reflexes, real-time marketing and successful hashtag hijacking is Oreo.
Mistake #2: Not knowing why you even use a/this hashtag
A lot of social media marketers, once they realize the power of hashtags and their usefulness in social media marketing tend to abuse them. Hashtags are in fact a very useful tool for all the different reasons I already explained but before you start harnessing their power, you need to take a step back to consider what are the right hashtags for you and what your goals are.
Mistake #3: Not checking your hashtag twice
Truth is, spelling mistakes can happen but especially when starting a new hashtag it is important to read it again and again, share it with your team and colleagues and really research how it could be used once it’s live.
Your might have the best of intentions for engaging your community on your own way, but before making the extra effort to build a campaign around your hashtag, it is important to consider all the negative ways your hashtag might be used once it’s out there.
To sum up, what you need to remember about hashtags on social media is that:
- Social media science agrees that you should use hashtags to increase the reach of your posts.
- Hashtags are a great way to connect with your audience and contribute to conversations happening on social.
- Every social media platform treats hashtags in a different way, so be aware of the specific requirements.
- Remember to use but not abuse hashtags in your social media marketing.
- Stay relevant.
- Do your research.
Do you regularly use hashtags on all social media platforms? We’d love to know more about it. Leave us a comment right below with your hashtag insights.