For businesses, using hashtags effectively online depends on what platform you’re on.
One of the most common questions businesses have when they start looking at ways to improve their social media strategy has to do with hashtags. There’s good reason for their curiosity (or anxiety, as the case may have it). Effective hashtag use not only boosts the reach and effectiveness of a social media content strategy, it’s also the differentiator between those who are comfortable in their online spaces, and those who are still struggling to fit in. On social media, where so much of a business’s activity is about promoting their image, awkward hashtags are a fast way to appear out of touch.
Fortunately, it isn’t too hard to get the hang of hashtags on different platforms. And once you understand the basics, you can use your newfound knowledge to think strategically about your hashtag use.
There are a lot of social media platforms, but most of the businesses we work with concentrate on the big four: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Hashtags on Facebook and LinkedIn function in roughly the same way, but hashtags on Instagram are a whole new ball game, and the same can be said for Twitter. If you’re interested in a hashtag strategy for a different platform, much of the advice you find below will still hold, although specific platforms will still have their idiosyncrasies.
To get started, we’re going to cover three questions you should always ask as you begin to develop a hashtag strategy, followed by a few specific rules for each of the platforms listed above.
1. What is your hashtag intended to accomplish?
Hashtags began on Twitter as a way to organize conversations around a specific topic. As they moved to other platforms, their function shifted slightly, depending on how different social media platforms treated them. On Facebook, many users have turned hashtags into a simple filing system for wedding photos, while users across every platform were quick to use them to express irony or tongue-in-cheek humor.
For businesses, your hashtags will serve one of the following purposes:
- You may be part of an industry that has established hashtags for certain topics. Using the industry hashtags can help you be seen by your peers.
- If you’re organizing an event, a hashtag can help attendees share their participation.
- Community building. Some hashtags have a long history within online communities. Using a hashtag that is common among your audience can help you become initiated.
- Trend joining. When a hashtag becomes popular, using it in a post can be a way to join into the conversation and demonstrate that you’re paying attention.
- Trend creating. Are you trying to jumpstart a conversation? Creating a specific hashtag and encouraging others to use it can generate buzz.
- Brand awareness. Using branded hashtags can reinforce brand authority, help others know which hashtags to use if they want to get your attention, and ensure that you are present in any conversations that are happening around your brand.
- Want to let people know what you’re talking about even if they don’t read your content? The right hashtags can boost your authority by signaling that you’re engaged in a conversation.
2. Does your hashtag match your audience?
The biggest social media faux pas a brand can make is using unrelated hashtags to try to draw attention to their content. Hijacking hashtags isn’t just ineffective, it’s also likely to anger the people who are following or using a hashtag for its legitimate purposes. So don’t just look up a list of the most used hashtags on Instagram and start spamming your posts with them—you won’t get anywhere.
Instead, do a deep dive into your space. If you work in a niche industry, see what your competitors are doing. Does your intended audience have a community, and do they organize around certain hashtags? If they do, what do those posts look like? Will your brand fit in if you start using those hashtags, or will it be intrusive and tone deaf?
Knowing your audience on social media is doubly important, because it’s not just about getting their eyes on your brand—it’s also about being accepted. If your approach feels transactional or self-interested, it can turn away the very people you’re trying to attract.
3. Are your hashtags already being used?
There are a lot of hashtags out there, and it’s likely that unless you’re using one specific to your brand, someone else has already used it. Mostly that’s not a problem. But if a hashtag’s history is connected to something specific, whether you use it for your own posts becomes an open question.
Don’t use a hashtag if:
- It’s already being used for something unrelated to your business.
- The content surrounding it isn’t a good match for your business.
- Using it would inappropriately hijack a community discussion.
Do use a hashtag if:
- It’s currently being used in a way that matches your business goals.
- It’s not currently being used and you want to connect it with your brand.
- It’s trending AND you can join in the conversation in a clever and appropriate way.
A few hashtag tips and tricks by platform:
The above rules are good to keep in mind no matter where you’re publishing. But hashtags don’t function the same way on every platform, and even when they do, the accepted dos and don’ts aren’t necessarily the same. Here are some best practices for the top social platforms your business is likely to be on.
Instagram is the dominant platform when it comes to hashtag use. Whereas most other platforms recommend only a few, Instagram is a maximalist. It’s also possible to follow hashtags on Instagram, which means that consistently using a few specific terms can help you build your followers.
- Use as many hashtags as are relevant to your post. Instagram’s limit is 30 hashtags.
- It doesn’t matter whether you put your hashtags at the end of your post or as the top comment.
- Search Instagram for niche hashtags, and use as many variations as you want.
- Research common hashtags among the customers you want to reach. For instance, #bookstagram is a hugely popular hashtag among readers.
- Keep a spreadsheet of your hashtag research and reference it when you go to make posts.
While hashtags originated on Twitter, the platform itself has also gotten better at identifying trending topics, even when no hashtags are used. That said, using a hashtag on Twitter is still an effective way to join into a trending discussion, speak to a specific community, or bring awareness to your business.
- Use only one hashtag per post, or two max.
- If you feel the urge to use more hashtags because your post covers a lot of different topics, consider splitting it into a thread.
- Don’t include similar variations on your hashtag (e.g., no need to use #book and #books in one post).
- Search for your hashtag before posting to make sure the conversation around it is what you intend.
- Pay attention to trending hashtags, but don’t use them unless they are relevant to your brand.
- Work your hashtag into your post if necessary to save on character count.
Facebook and LinkedIn
Hashtags aren’t as integral to these platforms as to others, but you should still include 2–3 relevant hashtags on your posts for anyone searching or following that topic.
- Combine one or two broad hashtags with one or two niche ones for a reach that is broad as well as deep.
- Use your hashtags to signal what your content is about, especially if you’re sharing a link. Someone scrolling down their feed might notice and be enticed to click.
- Place hashtags at the end of your post, not in the middle.
Hashtag and keyword strategy have a surprisingly lot in common.
A lot of the advice we give brands about hashtags mirrors what we say about keywords: You have to know your audience, you have to create content that is relevant, and niche terms are more targeted (and therefore more effective) than broad ones. Your targeted keyterms are also a good place to start when you’re searching for new hashtags.
Like keywords, hashtags can be a way to grow inbound traffic to your social channels, which can build your brand. And while you don’t need an SEO expert to rank for hashtags, a social media expert can help attract more attention to those posts. So, if you’re interested in improving your social media channels with posts that will represent your brand and grow your audience, we can help. We can help you develop a compelling brand voice, a visual look and feel, and an effective social media strategy. Contact us today to get started.