Synonymous with social media, the hashtag (#) opens up your posts to a wider audience, allows you to join existing conversations, and groups your content under specific themes. When used effectively, it’s a powerful tool to gain greater audience recognition, share your content or incorporate it into an existing social media conversation.
So let’s delve a little deeper and head behind the hashtag to discover its significance and how to use it to great effect.
What is a hashtag?
The hashtag is the symbol # and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook it turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link. This allows you to organise content and track discussion topics based on those keywords.
For example #welltravelled is a hashtag, as is #bestmovie2018.
How hashtags work
People use the hashtag symbol (#) before a relevant keyword or phrase in their social media posts to categorise content and help it show up more readily in a search.
Basically hashtags can be included anywhere in a tweet or post. Clicking or tapping on a hashtagged word in any message shows you other Tweets and posts that include that hashtag.
Hashtagged words that are very popular often become a trending topic (which is great to tap into).
You don’t need any tools to create a hashtag. Hashtags are simply text, and they can be placed in the beginning, middle, or end of content. Just decide on the keyword you are targeting, place # in front of it, and you are all set!
Why they’re relevant
Hashtags allow you to join or start a conversation while effectively grouping content. Basically the hashtag becomes a search term.
They’re particularly powerful tools for things like events, allowing people to share content from that occasion under a single stream. As an example, discussion about the current World Cup might be grouped under #WorldCup2018.
They’re also a useful tool for brands looking to foster audience engagement. For example Tourism Australia uses hashtags like #seeaustralia, which encourage travellers to tag their photographs and posts under a simple term. The best content provided by users under this term is uploaded and profiled on Tourism Australia’s site.
Meanwhile, there are a host of further ways to employ the power of the hashtag.
Hashtags can be used to talk about events, places, movements or emotions, with common uses including:
- Group Activities. These are things like conferences, clubs, associations, or online events, where there’s a certain group of people who want to share information among themselves through tweets.
- Themes. These have sprung up in the last couple of years and you can usually find at least one as a trending topic. For example the Me Too movement garnered a huge following, interest and ongoing conversation through the simple hashtag #metoo. Within 48 hours the hashtag was tweeted nearly a million times on Twitter, and 12 million times in 24 hours on Facebook.
- Online Conventions. These are usually short terms or abbreviations that have become common ways to express certain concepts. Some examples are #shoutout, #nowplaying, #tbt(Throwback Thursday).
- Asides. These are little extras people add to their tweets to express the way they feel or make a comment about what they just tweeted, e.g. #blessed, #mustread, #smh (shaking my head).
The art of using it well
Although they apply to all social media, each tends to use the hashtag slightly differently. For example Instagram hashtags tend to be descriptive of the content, whereas Twitter hashtags tend to be topic focussed. The art of using it well comes down to ensuring your hashtag is simple, logical and discoverable.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all have helpful guidelines for hashtags, but here are the key tips for all users:
- Be specific: If you’re using a hashtag to join a conversation, make sure the hashtag is specific and relevant to your topic. The more specific your hashtag the more targeted your audience.
- Keep it simple: As a hashtag is essentially a search term, keep it simple and intuitive.
- Use sparingly: Hashtags, like links, look like spam if they are used too often. Three hashtags should be the maximum on Twitter and only tag a word once.
- Give context: A tweet that contains only hashtags is not only confusing — it’s boring. If your tweet simply reads, “#happy,” your followers will have no idea what you’re talking about.
- Always check the hashtag first and the posts it links to. Make sure there is no hidden meaning you don’t want your tweets related to.
- You can have more than one hashtag per tweet like the example I used in the first screenshot. However, hashtags count against your character limit, so keeping them short will help you compose a longer tweet. It’s also important to keep in mind that the more hashtags you add, the harder it can become to make sense out of a tweet as it’s harder to read.
- Spaces are an absolute no-go. For the tag to work #allyourwordsneedtobetogther like this
- Numbers are supported, so you can shorten your tag to #5minutes rather than #fiveminutes and save that limited character space.
- Punctuation marks are not, so commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks and apostrophes are out. As are asterisks, ampersands or any other special character.
- A hashtag doesn’t have to be at the end of a tweet – In fact, it can become part of it. You can create a hashtag out of any text provided it doesn’t have a space in it (but limit it to one or two max).
- Twitter recommends using no more than two hashtags per Tweet as best practice, but you may use as many hashtags in a Tweet as you like. Meanwhile Instagram has a limit of 30 tags per post. We tend to keep it to three.
- Hashtags can be an incredibly useful tool to foster engagement, harness the power of a trending topic or start a conversation with your audience.
- Basically, searchable links that are incredibly simple to create and employ, the art comes down to using them in the right place at the right time