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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.
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:
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.
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:
Do use a hashtag if:
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.
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.
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.
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.