Hashtags: #Where, #How, and #Why to Use Them

One time, at a dinner event, I was asked by an older gentleman, "So, you know how hasthags work?" Yes. Yes, I do.

For the hashtag neophytes, hashtags are the things people slap in the middle or at end of a post.

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Example: "Great day for a bike ride! #beautifulweather #nofilter #bikestuff #ridingbikes #bikes #mountainbikes #biking #helmet #safetyfirst #outdoors"

Hashtags are meant to be the real-time taxonomy of social media. They tell you what the content is about. They help searchers (both human an bots) discover content they might find interesting. In most social networks, clicking on or searching for a hasttag lets view all other posts using that specific hashtag.

Again, using the example above, if I clicked on “#bikestuff,” I would then see all other posts using that specific hashtag.

So, if you’re going to use hashtags, here are a few pointers to get you heading the right direction.

Tip 1. #Always use hashtags…well not always.

Not every platform allows the use of hashtags. I mean, you can write #bikestuff into some, it just won’t link anywhere.

Likewise, sometimes a post doesn’t need a hashtag associated with it. However, when you can, use hashtags.

Tip 2. If you are making a hashtag for a #campaign, make sure it makes #sense first.

You have your campaign, your digital designs and everything set. Now, time to come up with a hashtag for bring it all together.

What ever you create, don’t use acronyms people don’t understand, don’t make it longer than 10 characters (it can, but try to shorten it), and for the love of all things sacred, let it make sense.

This works on two fronts, the actually context of the hashtag needs to directly correlate to the campaign. Likewise, the words used should clearly stand out from one another, making it as easy for users to read and type.

Tip 3. On #Twitter, only use a few.

If you use more than 3, your hashtags lose relevancy. Use hashtags to categorize your posts.

Tip 4. On #Instagram, you can use a lot. #Iwouldn’tThough

Some research indicates you can use more than 11 hashtags. However, I am of the opinion that this makes posts look kind of sophomoric. Feel free to use 5-7 , but personally, I just don't like that many (see Twitter rule, above).

Tip 5. On #Pinterest, use enough to define the product/idea.

Pinterest is a great platform to use hashtags, and once again you can use a metric-crap-load if you want to. However, this platform is a little more fluid. When using hashtags on Pinterest, align them with your brand and product, so when repins occur other users can recognize your name and product through the hashtags.

Tips 6. On #Facebook, #test, #test, #test..

Facebook audiences are tough to calibrate for things like how many hashtags are too many. Start off with the Twitter rule and work your way up. Measure engagement and then find your happy place. Odds are, it is around the 4-5 mark depending on the type of content.

Tip 7. Don't listen to me, #POST, #MEASURE and #TEST for yourself.

This should be at the end of every blog post located on every site.

I have tested hashtag use in multiple industries for multiple organizations. I have used none . I have used too many. Your mileage may vary. Test your outlets and your audience's engagement when you begin to use hashtags. Maybe your audience loves hashtags on Facebook but doesn't engage with you on Twitter when you use them?

If so, you can then write your own rules on hashtags, and when asked at a dinner party if you know how hashtags work, you too can amaze others with your newfound knowledge of hashtags.