The Right Way to Use Hashtags

hashtag-4Hashtags are the most iconic symbols of the social media age. They’ve been imitated and spoofed, representing the joys and foibles of an era where news can travel the globe in an instant. Indeed, hashtags have been a huge part of making that news visible: Everything from the 2016 election to the latest pop album has associated hashtags.

The story of the hashtag begins in 2007, where open source expert Chris Messina used them for the first time on Twitter. They were unofficial, based on the earlier and more “technical” chat protocol IRC.

To the surprise of Messina and Twitter, hashtags became popular quickly. Now, they are the accepted way to designate the topic of social posts. The right hashtag at the right time can help disseminate content with remarkable speed to millions of viewers.

What’s the Point of Hashtags?

hashtagHashtags designate topics. They can be as simple as #weekend or #smile or stand in for complex ideas. They can even change a post’s tone: A flatly delivered tweet becomes very different when connected to a known comedy hashtag.

Generally, small brands won’t get much from making their own hashtags. When getting started, they should check trending hashtags and share useful content under those topics. After building a following, they can branch out into unique hashtags. For example, a hashtag is great for any one time event, such as #Grammys2016.

Getting Mileage Out of Hashtags

Users can search for content under hashtags, making it easy to sift through the thousands of posts that go live every minute. Using a hashtag – appending a “pound sign” with a #word or #SeriesOfWords to a post’s ending – is the most important part of making content discoverable.

hashtag-3Good hashtags are:

  • Relevant
  • Specific
  • Understandable at a glance
  • Not too long or “clever”

One key to using hashtags is to choose the right level of detail. #DodgeRam zooms in on a more specific and passionate audience than #trucks. Everyone loves #coffee, but #FreshBrewedCoffee indicates the audience – though it’s just shy of too long for most fast-paced social media users.

When creating a hashtag, ask: “Is this what my audience would look for?”

But Wait – Hashtags Aren’t Everywhere (Yet)

Stick to one or two hashtags in a post. If you use more, you might look like an inexperienced user and confuse readers. Also bear in mind not every network uses hashtags: You can see them all over Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Misusing hashtags can be #goofy, but not using them makes your brand look out of touch. Take a deft approach, be precise (and concise!) and remember there can be too much of a good thing. The #hashtag may be simple, but it can be rocket fuel for your traffic and engagement.