What You Need to Know About Hashtags

A hashtag can help a brand create conversation, encourage engagement, and make content more searchable. But if they’re not used properly, they can also come across as trying too hard, inauthentic, and pointless, which is why it’s important that marketers—and anyone who uses social media—to understand what they are, how they work, and the best ways to use them. Read on for a few thoughts about what you should know about hashtags and how to use them #successfully.

What is a Hashtag?

Anyone on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest is probably already familiar with hashtags: they’re a word or phrase that follow the hash or pound sign (#). The hash turns the word/phrase into searchable link so anyone can click on it and see everything with that hashtag in real time.

How Do Hashtags Work?

The most important thing to remember when creating a hashtag is that #SpacesAreForbidden. Even if there are multiple words, those words must appear in a connected string. To differentiate words, use capital letters. And while numbers are okay (#SuperBowl50, #1stDayOfSchool), punctuation marks and special characters are not. Don’t use commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks, apostrophes, asterisks, dollar signs, or any other symbols or the hashtag won’t work as intended. The hashtag for #War&Peace, for example, will just be seen as #War. Instead, use: #WarAndPeace.

How Do People Use Hashtags?

Hashtags can not only help a person or brand join or start a larger conversation, they can also add context or convey humor or sarcasm. For example, Charmin has been very successful with its tongue-in-cheek #TweetFromTheSeat campaign, which has gotten thousands of people to talk about toilet paper on social media. And Nest, which makes security cameras and home thermostats (not exactly sexy topics), successfully reframed the conversation around their potentially icky or creepy product by sharing funny videos with #caughtondropcam.

Brands can also jump on existing hashtags to show personality and place their business in the buzz. However, it’s important to only use hashtags that are relevant. Of course, a creative social media manager will find ways to jump in on a wide range of fun memes, like these savvy brands.

However, proceed with caution when trying to co-op a hashtag for marketing purposes. Hashtags that aren’t pertinent can come across as inauthentic, trying too hard, and worst-case scenario: spam.

How Many Hashtags Should I Use in My Posts?

Try to avoid using too many hashtags on Twitter. In general, one to three hashtags is the unspoken accepted amount; any #more than that and the #post will #start to #feel #cluttered and #hard to #read.

But add as many as you’d like on Instagram. Using 11 or more hashtags on an Instagram post has been proven to garner more interaction, so go crazy. Although beware—hashtags are public and they can reveal a lot about your tastes, strategies, and goals.

How Do I Find Existing Hashtags to Use?

Instagram posts with 11 or more hashtags have been shown to generate more engagement on average.

Hashtagify “is the most advanced Twitter Hashtags search engine.” It helps brands find the best hashtags to reach their audience based on popularity, relationships, languages, influencers, and other metrics. Twitter also offers an Advanced Search feature where brands can search by words, phrases, hashtags, and more. It’s a great way to see what’s being talked about that’s relevant, if the conversations are negative or positive, and it’s free. Lastly, brands can always check Twitter for Trending Topics, a constantly-changing list with the current top hashtags. But again, marketers should wait until there’s one that really applies to them, otherwise it will feel forced and inauthentic.

Other Instagram-focused apps take the guesswork and research out finding random popular hashtags. Focalmark for instance allows users to input variables about the photo, like the subject and location, and it automatically spits out suggested hashtags. Social media management systems such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social also provide hashtag insights.

If you’re going to include a lot of hashtags on Instagram, “hide” them by preceding them with five periods, each on a line by itself so it doesn’t clutter your caption or appear spammy. If a brand just wants to know which hashtags are trending or are relevant to their content, there are a few tools that make it easy.

Should Hashtags Live Outside Social Media?

Where a brand wants to advertise its hashtag really depends on the brand, but hashtags are now found on billboards, print ads, television commercials, menus, YouTube videos, email signatures, and more. It’s a good reminder for people to join the conversation and extending a hashtag to signage in your brick-and-mortar or in your other marketing materials can help you bridge your brand’s analog and digital life, which makes it easier for you to reach your customers when you need to.