“What’s the deal with #hashtags?”

Justin Daab
Customer Experience Design

You can almost hear Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice in your head. All joking aside though, their usage seems to be extremely arbitrary, especially when it comes to individual social media platforms and the users themselves. Recent studies have shown that topics without a hashtag trend higher than their hashtag equivalent. All of that begs the question, do we need hashtags at all? Before we can answer that we need to understand from where the hashtag originated.


The history of hashtag use in social media goes back 10 years to 2007, where it was used on Twitter for the first time as a way to organize during a time where social media search left a lot to be desired. In addition to the searchability and categorizing qualities, it also could be used to add further context to Twitter’s restrictive 140 character limit.

The hashtag caught on rapidly on Twitter, and soon it started to make its way to rival platforms. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn all wanted a piece of the hash-action and hashtags became even more plentiful. Eventually, marketers wanted to get in on the action too and the hashtag began to take on a life of its own.


Now, after nearly 10 years in use, let’s take a look at the State of the Hashtag across the five major social media platforms. Do they work at all, and if so – which platforms embrace them best?


You can load up your posts and comments with as many hashtags as you like on Snapchat. The problem is Snapchat doesn’t offer a search option, and there is no way to track hashtags or to categorize them, rendering hashtags mostly useless on Snapchat. Bash the hash!


LinkedIn has had a love/hate relationship with hashtags in the past, but right now, it’s in love. With its makeover in early 2017 came a new emphasis on categorizing hashtags and utilizing them through the search option. A recent study by B2C shows that posts with a hashtag saw a 11% jump in reach and a 17% increase in interactions. Both are modest gains but gains nonetheless. The verdict? Utilize hashtags on LinkedIn.


Hashtags never really caught on for Facebook users. Hashtags don’t offer your content much value, and they may actually hurt your organic reach. A recent BuzzSumo study found that Facebook posts featuring a hashtag attracted only 70% of the organic reach of posts that did not feature a hashtag. According to a recent report from Your Story, posts with hashtags received only 0.8 percent viral reach, while posts without hashtags had 1.30 percent viral reach. Steer clear of hashtags on Facebook; they’re not only useless — they can be harmful.


Instagram is a hashtag lover’s utopia. Not only does the platform boast a 2200-character limit, allowing you to flood your posts with hashtags, but on Instagram, they actually work. A 2016 TrackMaven study revealed that the optimal hashtag count for engagement on Instagram was nine. That’s right. Nine hashtags are recommended for every Instagram post in order to build your audience and keep engagement elevated. It’s the visual nature of the platform that so readily empowers its users to search using hashtags and to categorize their content.


The original home for hashtags. Hashtags have been instrumental for users to find, search and comment on communities and topics of interest. As a news-breaking platform, the hashtag allows Twitter users to quickly search for a topic and users who are engaged in the conversation around it. The 144 character limit doesn’t allow for a lot of hashtags, but a recent BuzzSumo study suggests that using one or two hashtags per tweet can increase your engagement by 21%. But stop at two, because that same study showed that using three hashtags or more lowered your engagement by nearly 17%.


Hashtags are great for building engagement on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. When writing your social content, remember to use hashtags more strategically. Here are five ways to make hashtags work for you:

  1. Keep it short – If your hashtag is too long or contains multiple words it’ll be to be difficult to read, much less type. Keep your hashtags to a limit of 10 characters—including the hashtag itself.
  2. Use abbreviations – Scroll through Twitter or Instagram during any live event and you’ll see the hashtags with the most traffic are abbreviations or contain abbreviations. #Lolla is going to be easier to type and search than #Lollapalooza. For sporting events, #CLEvGSW is easier to type and search for than #ClevelandVersusGoldenState.
  3. Test your hashtag – Utilize Hashtagify and the advanced search within Twitter to see if your hashtag is already in use, and by whom. A rival brand may have already used your hashtag. Or, worse yet, your hashtag may have a connected meaning that is completely unrelated and inappropriate to the message you’re trying to deliver. Do some basic research to protect your brand. Utilize platforms like ‘Hashtagify.me’ to search the web for hashtags, related hashtags and their usage rate.
  4. Use them when context is needed – If your post is in reference to a specific event or topic then use a hashtag to give context to your post. “I can’t take it anymore!” reads a lot differently with a hashtag: “I can’t take it anymore! #Cubs”







Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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