In August 2007, the pound sign became a “hashtag”.
Chris Messina proposed the idea of the hashtag in a tweet as a way to identify groups on Twitter. Hashtags are now used in all kinds of social media posts and are meant to tie public conversations together. You can search a hashtag to find any conversation or post that references a particular topic or phrase.
Why should you use hashtags?
Hashtags can be used to identify the content of a post with just a few topical words or phrases. Using hashtags helps writers because they are able to categorize their content and create a stream of ideas around the same topic. Hashtags also help the readers by allowing them to faster discover the information for which they are searching.
In terms of how to categorize a hashtag, the possibilities are endless:
- Current events: #Snowmaggedon, #Brexit, #Election2016
- Popular culture: #Grammys, #GoT
- Holidays or special occasions: #GalentinesDay, #Xmas2017
- National days: #NationalDonutDay, #BestFriendDay
- Movements/activism: #WomensMarch, #BlackLivesMatter
- Wedding hashtags: #JaneAndMitchGetHitched
- Other social media tags: #selfie, #MotivationMonday, #ThrowbackThursday aka #tbt
Hashtags are a great way to get followers by more precisely targeting an audience. If someone is searching for a specific subject like the ones listed above, using a hashtag will narrow the search quickly to bring up only content with that particular tag.
You can even create your own acronym or hashtag as a way to start a new trend. For example, a lot of couples create hashtags to organize content from their weddings so that they can search for the hashtag later and find photos or posts from their big day. (If you can’t think of a good wedding hashtag, try this online generator.)
How hashtags work on different social media platforms
It’s actually hard to imagine Twitter pre-hashtags because now almost every tweet includes one. On Twitter it’s easy to search a topic by hashtag and find all of the related posts. Twitter will sort the posts by Top (most read), Latest, People, Photos and Videos. You can also view the left-hand side of the Twitter feed to see trending hashtags.
Is one hashtag enough to make a difference in engagement? In short, yes. One relevant or witty hashtag is enough, maybe even 2, but stick to two or less. Research has shown that using one or two hashtags on Twitter helps increase engagement in your content by over 20%, but using 3 or more hashtags actually starts to decrease that engagement and turns people off to your content.
There is also a thing called Twitter Chats, which I just recently learned about. Basically, you can go to this site to find a schedule of planned networking chats on Twitter about different topics using a specific hashtag.
Instagram works a bit differently than twitter when it comes to hashtags. The idea behind the hashtag is the same, but on Instagram the hashtags come with a photo (since that’s the point of the Instagram platform). Instagram is in direct contrast with Twitter when it comes to the correlation between number of hashtags and the success of the post. On Instagram, the most successful posts have lots of hashtags (see chart below), so hashtag it up when you post there.
Hashtags are much less useful on Facebook than on Twitter or Instagram, mostly because the majority of people keep their Facebook accounts private. If an account is private, that user’s posts are unsearchable, which means so are the hashtags in those posts. If an account or an individual post are made public, then the hashtag works very similar to how it does on Twitter/Instagram. Out of the three platforms discussed here (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), Facebook has the least success with hashtags. Using any amount of hashtags in a Facebook post just creates noise and will significantly drop the reach of the post.
#GetFollowers: What are best practices for a successful use of a hashtag?
- Less is more, unless you’re posting on Instagram. Instead of churning out 20 lame hashtags, take that time to come up with just a couple of really catchy ones.
- Avoid generic hashtags like #happy, #food, #fun, etc. The more specific the tag, the more likely your post will come up in a search.
- Don’t be wordy in your tags. If being specific means you have a 10-word hashtag, don’t do it. Something like #thisiswhatiateforbreakfastontuesday is not a good tag for obvious reasons. It gets hard to read these, it’s confusing, and frankly people will just get annoyed. Hashtags don’t need to explain everything because you probably already did that in your actual content.
- Watch your spelling. If you misspell within your hashtag there’s a good chance no one will find it.
- Capitalize words in your hashtag. If you #CapitalizeYourWords it will be much easier to read the phrase within your hashtag, thus generating more engagement.
If you’re really struggling to find hashtags you can search your topic on Twitter to find related hashtags, or use websites like hashtagify.