TL;DR: Hashtags always seem to go hand in hand when talking about social media. But what's the best way to use them? This guide is here to answer your hashtag questions.
The hashtag is synonymous with social media and seems to have always existed, but it wasn't always so. In 2006, Twitter created microblogging with instant and live social media interactions. Now people could "tweet” at any moment creating a lot of conversation, but also a lot of chaos. To help establish some order, Chris Messina proposed using hashtags.
Messina had taken inspiration from his time in IRC chatrooms (Internet Relay Chat) where they had used this concept of categorizing channels. The name itself came from programming culture where they called # a hash instead of the pound sign. It wasn't until the California Wildfires of 2007, some months after the first hashtag tweet, that people began to see the value of the symbol. During the wildfires, the hashtag #SanDiegoFire was used by Nate Ritter to tweet the latest information. "Because Nate was so prolific and was constantly posting for days, it gave people a taste of what it looks like to have hashtags," Messina said in 2017.
Hashtags continue to be used to create and find groups and conversations. Two years later and the use of hashtags pushed Twitter to introduce a search tool for hashtags in 2009. A year after the search tool, Twitter introduced Trending Topics. This tool allowed people to view the most popular hashtags in real-time and categories for conversations that used hashtags. Soon after, other social platforms started incorporating hashtags.
Now, the symbol represents an era of social media. Hashtags can build your company's brand, increase engagement, and reach new audiences. Hashtags allow marketers to find relevant and trending topics for their audience and can help strengthen community relationships. The challenge lies in figuring out what hashtags to use, how many to use, and when to use them.
General Best Practices to Keep in Mind:
Use hashtags that make it easy to reach current and new audiences. Don't create differentiated topics without reason.
Keep them simple! Make them easy to understand and see how the hashtag is relevant to them and you.
No punctuations and no spaces.
Use hashtags to identify the topic of the conversation and incorporate them into your sentences.
Know why you’re using a hashtag. Your hashtag usage should make sense and be relevant to you and your brand. Research beforehand trending topics and debate whether you can connect your brand in an engaging way.
Follow Community Guidelines: If you don't follow community guidelines, the platform won't share your content. Stay in the platform's good graces and share your content with the world.
Sparkloft does not recommend using hashtags on Facebook as we have yet to see a positive association with using them on this platform. We recommend only using a hashtag when you're sharing content from a campaign for brand recognition and to gather all associated posts for analytics and reporting.
The optimal number of hashtags to use is nine, and many recommend staying below ten hashtags. Hootsuite stated that posts with nine hashtags receive the most engagement, any higher than that, and engagement starts to fall. Instagram only allows up to a maximum of 30 hashtags on posts, and up to ten on Stories, any more than that and you can't post your content.
Don't let hashtags take away focus from your post. Hashtags should be a supporting tool concerning your content, not the point of focus. There are two ways to keep your hashtags from cluttering your post. You can put them in the comments section or bury them in the caption after 2-4 lines of space. Hootsuite provides a helpful guide to including hashtags into the caption. Putting hashtags in the comments leaves the caption clean and uncluttered, a format appealing to many users.
Hashtags on Instagram "categorize content and make it more discoverable” and can be followed, similar to following an account. You can reach audiences that don't follow you but who may follow hashtags you use. Hashtags make your content and page discoverable to users.
If you follow the guidelines and stay both innovative and relevant with your hashtags, you have a higher chance of appearing in Instagram's Explore feature, one of the best ways to gain exposure. Getting onto the Explore page can introduce your content to a new audience and help you gain followers, even your Stories can wind up on the Explore page.
Keep hashtags to no more than two in a tweet. Twitter doesn't have a space for discovery, like Instagram's option to put your hashtags in the first comment. Instead, you have to include relevant hashtags in the tweet itself. As Twitter's character limit leaves you with limited space, the copy should take priority.
Use the search bar to look for potential and relevant conversations for your hashtag.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Don't make them up. Unless a hashtag is for a specific campaign, don't make up your hashtags. Here are some examples of brand campaigns that have created a hashtag specific to their campaign and worked to their advantage.
Stay Relevant: Ask yourself if you saw this hashtag accompanied with this post, what would you think? Why are you using these hashtags?
Research. Research. Research: Stay on top of trends and what hashtags are appropriate by researching what hashtags your targeted audience are using. Use the tools already at your disposal, such as Instagram's search function in the Explore section. Hootsuite recommends using combinations of both niche and popular hashtags.
Be Proactive: Look for conversations your brand can join and be thoughtful in your hashtag usage by staying relevant. If you don't think it makes sense to join a conversation, others will likely feel the same. Such as the case of #FacebookDown, brands joined the conversation to make fun of the situation and connect with their audience by joining a trending conversation.