Are you #dazedandconfused by hashtags in social media? If you’re nodding yes, you’re not alone. Hashtags are often used excessively and incorrectly across social platforms—to the point that many of you have disregarded their potential effectiveness in your social marketing efforts. However, the fact is that hashtags can work like magnets to attract people to your posts. It’s worthwhile to hash out a strategy because these tags can be potent devices for capturing the attention of your target markets.
The Hashtag & How It Works
The social media hashtag is fundamentally a search tool. It was born as a way for people who have a shared interest in a topic to easily find and follow posts about that topic within social platforms. The first hashtag was used on Twitter way back in 2007 (get the story on hashtag history over on my blog; see link at end of article) to make it easy for people attending an event to see all the tweets shared by their fellow attendees. The concept worked well, and over time, use of these tagged search terms took hold.
Today, social audiences use hashtags to find and follow topics they’re interested in, and marketers employ them to track buzz on particular topics. After a decade as part of the social media landscape, hashtags are more than ubiquitous; they’re important as a tool to reach your customers, as well as to track topics that matter for your biz.
Basic Do’s and Don’ts for Business
When hashtagging to reach customers, choose words and phrases in the same way you would determine key search terms for your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Be topical, but also be geographically specific in order to increase chances of connecting with people who could actually come into your showroom.
Determine and use the most well established hashtags that are popular with potential customers in your geographic area. Has your local chamber of commerce, small business community, or design district promoted a certain hashtag? Then incorporate it in your posts!
Remember that hashtags with smaller, pinpointed audiences may be more beneficial than ones more broad in scope. For example, “#dallas” has 7.5 million hits on Instagram, while #dallasdesigndistrict has just over 23K. Nonetheless, I’d gamble that the tighter, more specific audience who’s tracking the latter would be the one to bear the most fruit for certain businesses.
Use custom hashtags sparingly and with a realistic expectation of their benefit. They can be wasted characters within posts if they’re terms or phrases nobody is actively following. Reserve custom hashtags for events you’re a part of, targeted promotional campaigns, and other contained situations for which it’d be simple to rally people to use and search them. Also, use them for your own tracking purposes. For example, I often throw in “#backsplashideas” on my @TileTuesday Instagram posts, not to attract eyeballs to my posts but rather to cull my own content. The term is not a widely used hashtag, but it’s a handy tracking device for me when I want to revisit what I’ve previously posted on this specific topic.
Do the research to figure out what tags are best for your business. There are many ways to determine a workable list, including competitive observation, tracking activity on certain posts, identifying trending tags that fit what you do, and so on. Note that the list will evolve over time, so you’ll need to continuously stay in research mode. Visit the blog on my website for more details on how to research (link at end of article).
Alter your hashtag use to fit the various social platforms you utilize. What works on one will not work on all. See more scoop about this key point in the next section of this article, below. Remember that hashtag use is just one component of a full array of tactics you should be incorporating into your social media posts to take your marketing efforts further.
Best Practices & Recommendations by Social Platform
Though the “find and follow” function of hashtags is the same across social platforms, best practices and approaches vary. Here are tips by social platform to improve effectiveness.
Instagram is where the hashtag’s power is strongest. At present, Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags (and/or “@“ mentions) per post, giving you lots of chances to become ‘findable’ by your audiences.
- Use every hashtag available to you. You won’t be worried about how lots of hashtags look in your caption once you experience the effectiveness.
- Keep your list of Instagram hashtags in a notes app on your smartphone so that you can easily copy and paste when posting on the go.
- Commit to using a list of core hashtags in every post—regardless of the content being shared. This consistency will help you get—and stay—in front of your target audiences.
- Immediacy matters, so avoid adding and editing hashtags after you’ve posted.
Hashtags are very effective on Twitter. If you hear something is a “Trending Topic,” that means a certain hashtag is being used very frequently by lots of people on Twitter at a given time. Such trending is often considered newsworthy at a national level. Of course, the best hashtags for your business on Twitter may never make the nightly news, but they could help drive traffic to your account—or better yet, your store or website.
- Include hashtags on every tweet possible, as they positively affect the performance of your posts—earning up to two times the engagement (likes, retweets, replies) of tweets with no hashtags.
- Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, it’s necessary to use only the most targeted hashtags in your posts.
- The official recommendation of Twitter is to use no more than two hashtags per tweet. Research confirms this is the best way to go, as engagement increases with one or two hashtags but goes down when three or more are used.
Though hashtags do have a place within your Facebook posts, they have not proven to be the driving force they are on other social platforms. We find that the tactics for hashtags on Twitter translate well for Facebook: use no more than two tags per post to get more eyeballs on what you share.
Pinterest can do backflips in driving traffic back to your website, but the role of hashtags in this feat is minimal. Posts on Pinterest, aka “pins,” that have multiple hashtags are proven to perform less effectively, so make it standard practice to include only one hashtag or none at all in your pin captions. Rather, focus on using key search terms in the text that accompanies your pins, as those are what populate search results on Pinterest.
Hashtag, You’re It!
Ready to get started on your hashtag strategy? Begin by researching the best tags for your biz, then focus first on incorporating those tags into your Instagram posts. Because Instagram is extremely hashtag-friendly, you’ll likely see good results from your efforts while learning fundamentals that can be applied your activity on other social networks. Find more information and ideas at msg2mkt.com/blog. #GoodLuck and #HappyTagging!
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