In the early days of the social media revolution, hashtags were misunderstood and rarely used. As the obvious benefits of using hashtags in social media marketing campaigns became more widespread, the marketing and advertising industry began to embrace them. Today, some people see them as an effective way to express the thought of the moment, some view them as an easy way to group and discuss a wide range of topics, while others view them as annoying disruptions to otherwise perfectly logical discussions. What cannot be disputed is their prevalence across the major social networks and their effectiveness when used strategically as part of a marketing campaign. Because of this, hashtags are now a fundamental element of many social media campaigns.
Hashtags on Twitter
Since Twitter was where hashtags began to dominate social media, it seems appropriate to start here. Chris Messina, a social technology expert, is widely acknowledged to have created the very first hashtag on Twitter. Since that tweet in August 2007, hundreds of millions of hashtags have been created, with the phenomenon now spreading to other social networks such as Instagram and Facebook. On twitter, hashtags were originally conceived as a way of simply grouping tweets together, but they are now used to find out the latest news or to join in the discussion of a particular topic. Despite their frequent overuse, using hashtags in social media marketing campaigns is still a very effective method of gaining interactions on tweets, with research suggesting that tweets containing one or two hashtags boost engagement by two times as much as those tweets without any hashtags.
Twitter Hashtag Tips
- Take advantage of event hashtags – If you are attending an industry event, tweet using the official hashtag and participate in the conversation.
- Keep your hashtags short and sweet – Remember, Twitter only gives you 140 characters to play with, so if your hashtag is too long it’s unlikely to be shared.
- Participate in Twitter chats – Like using event and conference hashtags, Twitter chats provide a great opportunity to gain exposure, connect with influencers and contribute to a conversation.
- Focus on topics – Hashtags on Twitter are usually focussed on a discussion topic, so hashtags relating to something users will talk about generally receive more interaction than those that don’t.
- Less is more – It’s generally recommended that a tweet contains no more than two hashtags.
Hashtag Strategies on Instagram
Another hotspot for hashtags is the fastest-growing social network – Instagram. Although hashtags are used in much the same way as they are on Twitter, the ways in which hashtag usage correlates to user engagement are very different between the two platforms. Unlike tweets, Instagram posts that contain many hashtags tend to see a higher percentage of interactions, with recent research suggesting that 11 or more hashtags is the ideal number of hashtags to use. Also, while Instagram hashtags tend to focus more on the description of the photo and the tools and techniques used to create the image, Twitter hashtags are usually focussed on a topic of conversation.
Instagram Hashtag Tips
- Use popular hashtags – Tagging your posts with popular and trending hashtags as often as possible will generally get you more followers and generate more comments. (You can check out the most popular Instagram hashtags here).
- Be specific – you will find it easier to establish connections with like-minded people by tagging photos with specific references, such as “DodgeViperSportsCar” rather than “SportsCar”.
- Be relevant – Make it easy for other Instagram users to find your posts by describing your photo as accurately as possible using hashtags.
- More is more (on Instagram) – It is generally thought that the more hashtags in Instagram posts, the better (11+ is widely regarded as the “magic number” with regards to user engagement on Instagram).
Hashtags on Facebook
As we discussed in our blog post Facebook Adopts the Hashtag, Facebook, the social media network with around 1.35 billion monthly users, now also utilises hashtags. Although it is still too early to say for sure how using hashtags in Facebook marketing campaigns translates into user interaction, early indications suggested that posts without hashtags actually perform better in terms of engagement metrics than those without hashtags. However, according to research conducted by Social Bakers, posts that contain one or two hashtags perform considerably better than those posts that contain three or more.
Facebook Hashtag Tips
- Use industry specific hashtags – Create your own hashtags only if they will be relevant to your audience.
- Cross-promote hashtags – Although hashtag usage on Facebook is not nearly as prevalent as on many other social networks, including your campaign hashtags on Facebook makes it easier to centralise your social media marketing.
- Use keywords relevant to your business and the audience you are targeting. (If you are a local business, include the name of your city too).
- Don’t use hashtags in every post – Remember, on Facebook, less is more.
- Keep the number of hashtags to a minimum – If you have to use them, keep them to one or two hashtags per post. Use more and you could see your engagement figures dip considerably.
General Hashtag Tips and Tricks
- Capitalise the first word of every letter – #ThisIsEasierToRead is easier to read than #thisishardertoread.
- Incorporate hashtags in sentences – By including your hashtags in sentences, the hashtag is contextualised and the sentence looks better. You can also save space with this approach.
- Promote your hashtag – Popularising hashtags is extremely difficult, so to give your branded hashtag the best chance of being shared you should promote it on your website, printed materials, other social networks and anywhere else you can think of.
- Don’t overuse hashtags – Their main reason for using a hashtag is to flag a particular topic, issue or theme that others can then associate themselves with by using the same hashtag. Not everything you post will fall into this category, so only use hashtags when required.
- HashtagHijacking – Finding out which hashtags are popular in a particular niche and then joining in the conversation by using said hashtags is usually a smart move. However, make sure you know what the hashtag trend is referring to before joining in.
- Keep it simple – A short and simple hashtag such as #FoodPorn gets the point across quickly and can help to encourage sharing and discussion.
- Use brand hashtags – Create a brand hashtag that is unique to your business and that defines the values of your business, then use it as your signature tag. Before you decide on a hashtag, search for it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ to ensure it’s not already in use.
- Utilise hashtag tools – The incalculable number of hashtags across a vast number of social networks means you’ll most likely need to use various tools to carry out your research. Various online services such as Hashtags.org and Topsy will make your life much easier.
- Include a call to action – Make sure you give your followers an objective, whether it’s a competition, sharing a photo or telling a story.
- Understand the platform – As briefly discussed above, hashtagging on Instagram is different to hashtagging on Facebook and Twitter. Do some research and find out what works best where.
How do you use hashtags in social media? If you have any creative ideas or tips for using hashtags in social media marketing campaigns, please share them with our other readers by leaving a comment below!