What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

Wix | October 21st 2013

Once upon a time, # was but a simple pound sign or hash. But then came Twitter and turned this mundane sign  into an online sensation. Today, whether you are on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube or Facebook, you simply cannot escape the all encompassing presence of the #hashtag.

To the social media novice, hashtags might seem confusing, annoying and pointless at first glance. But if you understand their purpose and learn how to  use them, hashtags are a powerful tool to help you engage your target audience and increase your brand awareness.

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

So What is a # Hashtag?

A hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), that people include in their social media posts. Essentially, it makes the content of your post accessible to all people with similar interests, even if they’re not your followers or fans.  For instance, let’s say you’re an Apple fan and that you’re playing with the idea of buying an iPhone 5. A simple  “#iPhone5″ search on any social network will open a dedicated news feed with all iPhone 5 latest updates, deals, rumors and hacks. The results you see on this feed are the aggregated posts of any users who used “#iPhone5″ in their posts. But usually, users don’t actively search for hashtags, but simply spot them. Hashtags appear as clickable links on posts they see and a mouse click will display a real-time live  feed of every other post tagged with the same hashtag.

How Can Using #Hashtags Help you Promote your Business?

Assuming your social media profile is public, using hashtags make your posts visible to basically anyone who shares your interest. No longer are your posts limited to just your followers; your content is now accessible to all other users interested in similar topics. Choosing the right hashtag can greatly broaden the reach of your social media posts to thousands of potential followers, fans or customers.

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

Creating an Effective Hashtag

To create a hashtag, all you need to do is include a # and a relevant keyword or phrase. You can insert hashtags anywhere in your posts: front, middle or end. Some people like to weave their hashtags into the middle of posts, while others prefer inserting them at the end. It does not really matter, as long as your hashtags remain relevant. Hashtags are powerful when used wisely. Nothing turns people off more than a cluttered post with excessive hashtags or overly lengthy hashtags, e.g. #thisLongHashtagIsSoPointless. As a general rule of thumb, keep your hashtags to a maximum of two or three when tweeting on Twitter. For Instagram, the ideal number of hashtags is five. Always remember to use clear, unique and relevant hashtags.

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

Three Powerful Hashtags To Use on Social Media

  • Content Hashtags: If you are totally new to hashtags, first consider using hashtags that directly relate to your brand, product or service. Content hashtags will greatly expose your brand to potential customers on those social media platforms who weren’t previously familiar with your brand.In the Tweet below, New York restaurant Madison Bistro skillfully includes hashtags about its products (#coffee, #breakfast) and location (#nyc), coupled with a clickable hyperlink that directs users to the restaurant menu on its Facebook page. Through this simple Tweet, the company increases its visibility among relevant Twitter users and in the process might have attracted some potential coffee-loving customers in New York City.

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

  • Trending Hashtags: Another great way to boost your brand’s visibility is using existing hashtags that have grown popular among millions of users, also known as ‘trending’ hashtags. Before you hashtag trending topics, remember to first ask yourself whether your social media posts are adding value to the existing conversation. If your post does not add value, it is highly likely to be ignored and lost in the plethora of posts. If however your post is informative, funny or viral, it would get re-shared by fellow users and this greatly enlarges awareness of your brand.
    As Halloween approaches, there are many brands and companies who have hopped on the #Halloween bandwagon. Here are some good examples:

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

  • Brand-Specific Hashtags: Sometimes, the problem with using generic or popular hashtags is that your posts might be lost in the noise of hundreds of posts using the same hashtags. Hence, it is a good idea to create your own dedicated brand-specific hashtags. These can be used for general branding, promotions, events, contests or other marketing campaigns.For example, as part of its 100th anniversary, Oreo created a special hashtag #oreomoment and got users to share about their favorite memory of their product. The hashtag got so popular that it elicited thousands of responses from users. Soon, what was originally a brand-specific hashtag became a trending hashtag as more people (even companies) used the #oreomoment hashtag.

Effective Brand Specific Hashtags

The key to creating an effective brand-specific hashtag is to ensure that there is no one else using the same hashtag. Make sure it is unique and memorable. For general branding, use a short motto or tagline (e.g. Kit Kat uses #haveabreak). When creating marketing campaign-specific hashtags, make sure to give users a compelling incentive to use them. For example, you could get users to post with a campaign-specific hashtag to stand a chance to get discounts or win prizes. In return, your brand stands to benefit from major viral marketing publicity.

So what are you waiting for, start harnessing the power of hashtags and broaden your reach to millions of potential followers or customers now!

What are # (Hashtags) and How to Use them on Social Media

About the Author
Colin Pang is an eclectic man who writes on a vast range of topics, with a focus on tech trends, innovation, web design, travel, languages and entrepreneurship. You can visit his website at www.colinpang.com



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