Here’s the Skinny on Hashtags (Spoiler Alert: You Need Them!)


To hashtag or not to hashtag. Or is that three hashtags? If you’ve been using social media platforms for some time now, you probably already know a little something about hashtags. However, it can get a little overwhelming on when to use them, where to use them, how to use them, and what hashtags have the most potential for exposure. If hashtags stump you or you think it’s just the pound sign on your flip phone, keep reading, friends. Enlightenment awaits.

What’s a Hashtag?

Granted, once upon a time, the hashtag was merely known as the pound sign on your phone, at least in the United States. However, before that, it actually stemmed from the Latin abbreviation for the word “pound”––hence the name. The symbol’s original official name is octothorpe, or so says

Today, it’s merely known as the hashtag, a term popularized by social media. Oxford Dictionary actually added the word hashtag in June 2014, making it an official word for the ages, defined as: A word or phrase with the symbol # in front of it, used on social media websites and apps so that you can search for all messages with the same subject.

A good descriptor! When hashtags first became famous on social media, usage started as a way to sort and organize posts based on common topics. Eventually, the hashtag evolved into not only a way to find content based on the topic but also a way for businesses and brands to gain targeted exposure on social media platforms and help find the right people.

Using Hashtags on Social Media

In the beginning, Twitter was the only social media platform using hashtags. Now, virtually every social media platform uses them. They are very helpful in getting your content discovered on social channels by people actually interested in the topic.

However, it’s important to put a little thought and effort into choosing the right hashtags for your business. Choosing the wrong ones will be a wasted effort and could negatively impact your brand. Some hashtags on social media even get shadow-banned because they are linked to questionable content, so you should always research your hashtag choices before using them.

Another thing to keep in mind is the platform you plan to use them on. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest use hashtags liberally, with good results as far as discoverability and exposure. However, platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook may not yield the same benefits or discoverability.

Facebook users tend to get irate when users deploy hashtags with their content, which is a big reason Facebook doesn’t push their use. LinkedIn now allows them again, but how much mileage you’ll get out of using them is debatable at this point. Experiment and see what happens.

Tips for Using Hashtags Effectively

There are opinions galore on how to best use hashtags, but ultimately, you’ll have to do your own testing to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for your brand. That said, there are some general tips you can follow to help put you on the right track.

Peep the Competition

Your competitors are likely on social media and using hashtags themselves, so it can pay dividends to look at the hashtags they’re using and determine if some of those hashtags might work for your brand. It’s also a good idea to look at social engagement for a particular hashtag. How many likes, comments, shares, etc., does the competitor’s post have? If the numbers are good, the hashtags could be contributing.

Peep Trending Topics

It’s great to use hashtags related to trending topics. Just be careful when you do. Use your judgment, and remember that co-opting hashtags related to a big social issue could be considered bad form and backfire. While trending topics can be useful, try to ensure they are as relevant as possible to your brand.

Avoid Spammy or Censored Hashtags

One way to figure this out is to just click it on the platform you want to use it on. If most of the posts are irrelevant or look like spam, you probably should steer clear because it won’t have the impact you’re hoping for. If it’s censored or banned, Instagram, for instance, lets you know. Another helpful thing about Instagram is that you can search hashtags in the search bar and discover how often that hashtag is being used. If the number is very low, discoverability will likely be poor.

Keep ‘Em Relevant

Use hashtags relevant to the platform you’re using them on. When in Rome and all that jazz. Some hashtags are platform specific, so using them on another platform won’t always yield the same results. Your competitors can also help you out on this when you peep their strategies during your hashtag research.

Do a Reach Check

A simple way to do it is to post updates for one week using hashtags related to your industry and content. Then the next week, do similar updates sans the hashtags. Assess engagement from your audience for both weeks, and this can give you a benchmark to determine if the hashtags you’re using are really worthwhile or not.

Don’t Go Crazy

Hashtags are like salt. A little can go a long way, but too much is just too much. Assess your goals, but no more than 2-3 per post is usually plenty and not spammy or distracting on most platforms. The caveat to that is Instagram. More Instagram hashtags appear to be better, with Social Media Today reporting as many as 9-11 hashtags in a post as being the sweet spot. You could also try placing your hashtags in the comments instead of the post to help mitigate distraction.

Skip ‘Em if Need Be

One hashtag per post is usually enough to help you gain some visibility if you really want at least one. However, you may want to skip them altogether if the goal of the post has a CTA. If you want people to click a link, you don’t want them getting sidetracked by clicking your hashtags instead. That’s too many options, so simple is best.

Try Unique Hashtags

Unique hashtags may not gain you as much discoverability, but they can be great for branding purposes or if you’re running a specific campaign so that people can find you on social and participate. The key to unique hashtags is to keep them simple and memorable. You want people to be able to find you with them easily but also be able to share user-generated content with them easily as well. Avoid super long, clunky hashtags or hashtags with too many numbers. Keep them short, sweet, and unique.  

Hashtags are a helpful and useful component of social media marketing strategies, but like keywords and SEO, they should be used carefully in accordance with your content and campaign goals. Not all hashtags are created equal, and not all platforms are ideal for using them. If you need guidance on planning your next social media campaign strategy, reach out. We are happy to help!

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