Once upon a time, the ‘#’ was a simple pound sign or hash mark. But then the social blue bird flew onto the scene and turned this mundane symbol into an online sensation. Today, whether you are on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or any other social media channels, you simply cannot escape the all encompassing presence of the hashtag. But what exactly is a hashtag? In case you always wondered but were too afraid to ask, we’ve come up with a clear and concise explanation of everything you need to know about this Internet phenomenon.
Not only that: once you’ve mastered the “what”, you’ll probably want to know “how” to use hashtags. Strap in because this article will help all levels of social media addicts. If you’re relatively new to the game, we understand that at first glance, hashtags might seem confusing. But once you understand them better, you will see that they are a powerful social media marketing tool to grow your social impact and engage your audience – oh, and did we mention: all for the cost of $0.00? If you’re more advanced, you might want to know how to optimize your hashtags, in order to raise brand awareness and get more customers through your marketing strategies. Follow us for a complete guide on what are hashtags and how to use them efficiently as a social media influencer or business owner:
What is a hashtag?
With thousands of images published every minute on all social platforms, it can be hard to stand out amongst the crowd. The possibility for your post to be seen isn’t promising, unless they are one of your followers. That’s where hashtags come into play.
A hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), written within a post or comment to highlight it and facilitate a search for it. Essentially, by including hash marks in your post; it can be indexed by the social network so that it can be discoverable to everyone, even if they’re not your followers or fans. For example, if your company has to do with extreme sports you can add the hashtag bucketlist to your Instagram posts to snag those people with a passion for adventure and fun.
Hashtags on social media have been attributed to the American blogger and product consultant, Chris Messina who first proposed using them on Twitter in 2007, to indicate topics of interest. The first known use of the term hashtag is believed to be, "Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings" by Stowe Boyd in a blog post on August 26, 2007. The term was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014, as a sign of how far it had come along in terms of daily usage and recognition.
Hashtags had been used before this, in the context of programming languages. In the 1970s they were used in the assembly language PDP-11, to detonate giving immediate access to something marked with a hashtag. They were also introduced to C programming language around 1973, to indicate which keyword should be processed first.
Why should you use hashtags?
Thanks to hashtags, your posts aren’t limited to just your followers. By adding one of these bad boys, your content will be accessible to all other users interested in similar topics who search for your hashtag. Choosing the right hashtag can greatly broaden the reach of your social media posts to thousands of potential followers, fans or customers. For example, if you have a healthy juice bar, it can be tempting to go for the obvious hashtag fruit, but beware! With over a million posts and growing the chances of being seen are as slim as a banana peel. Now if you throw on a more specific tag like hashtag drinkyourveggies, your looking at better odds. This is all the more relevant with the recent update on Instagram, where you can now follow specific hashtags just like you would friends or companies. So it goes without saying: make sure you don’t just slap # on any word but plan your Instagram marketing plan carefully.
Three types of hashtags to use on social media
If you are totally new to hashtags, first consider using some that directly relate to your product, service, market or area of expertise. We can call them the ‘content hashtags’ because they relate to the content that your content would be naturally associated with. As you can imagine, they will greatly expose your brand to potential customers on those social media platforms who weren’t previously familiar with your brand. For instance, at Wix we primarily use content hashtags related to websites – such as SEO, Illustration, Photography or SMB.
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’. Watch out: before you add the ‘#’ symbol to a trending topic, remember to first ask yourself whether your social media posts are adding value to the existing conversation. Value can be interpreted in many ways: a unique piece of information, an original look or opinion at what’s is going on, or simply a funny statement or image. If your post does not add any 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 will get re-shared by fellow users ultimately increasing awareness of your brand. Generally, trending hashtags are a lot of fun! It can range from holidays to random spur of the moment games like the Tweet below:
Sometimes, the problem with using generic or popular hashtags is that your posts might be lost in the noise of hundreds of messages 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. The key to creating an effective brand-specific hashtag is to ensure that there is no one else using the same hashtag. It has to be unique and memorable. For general branding, use a short motto or tagline. 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. A brand-specific hashtag that we hold very near and dear to our hearts is #WixPhotography, which we use on all of our relevant social media platforms – like Facebook.
How to use hashtags wisely?
To create a hashtag, all you need to do is include a ‘#’ and a relevant keyword or phrase. This, you already knew. But what you didn’t know is that not all hashtags are born equal. In fact, they are only powerful when handpicked and used wisely. Here are three crucial general tips that apply to all social media and businesses.
01. Keep it short
To save everyone the headache, don’t squish too many words into one hashtag. Nothing turns people off more than overly lengthy hashtags – YouDontWantToTryThisAtHome.
02. Don’t overuse
Another thing you want to avoid is writing your entire caption with one hashtag per word. The number of hashtags you can allow per post depends on each channel. But as a general rule of thumb, only put an hashtag next to word that are really significant.
03. Think strategically
This applies to the ‘content hashtags’. By definition, since you won’t have created them, they are probably used by other brands. Which is a good thing, since people will look after this hashtag. But at the same time, when a hashtag is overcrowded, you can be sure that your content will go unnoticed. So it’s highly recommended to mix content hashtags with a high volume, with other hashtags that are more specific. For example, let’s say you have a restaurant and you want to post a picture of your latest gnocchi dish on Instagram. Food is an obvious choice, but with over 258 millions posts using it, you have no chance to stand out. Try and find more ‘niche’ hashtags, such as gnocchi or gnocchiday. As always, a little research will go a long way. Hashtagify is a good place to start. And of course, nothing will beat the good old trial and error: experiment, learn and have fun as you go!
Best hashtag practices for each social media platform
How many hashtags per post: Research shows that the optimal amount of hashtags is two. Over that, the tweets have a significant drop in engagement.
How to find the best hashtags around: It’s important to make sure people are engaging with the hashtags you use. A great place to start is Hashtagify, it allows you to check the popularity and recent popularity to know if your hashtag is relevant.
Where to place them: While you are more limited on Twitter with the amount of #’s you are less confined as to where they should go. It can be used at the end of a Tweet or incorporated as part of the sentence.
How many hashtags per post: The more hashtags you use, the more engagement you see – up until a certain point. After about 10 hashtags, you risk losing out on some of that engagement.
How to find the best hashtags around: Head over to the search box and check what your audience, competitors, and industry leaders are already using. Pay attention to the number of posts, and how many likes the first images received.
Where to place them: In order to keep everything organized and neat, it’s best to put your hashtags at the end of your caption preferably separated by either dots or asterisks. If you’re a neat freak, you can also add your hashtags in a comment to your post.
Facebook and LinkedIn
Believe it or not, hashtags are not important on Facebook. We recommend limiting the number of hashtags to a minimum. Indeed, concise captions tend to perform better on this platform. Of course, using your ‘brand-specific hashtags’ won’t hurt.
How many hashtags per post: Pinterest themselves recommend you add no more than 20 hashtags per Pin.
Where to place them: Hashtags only work within the Pins’ descriptions.