Remember when hashtags weren’t a thing and the hashtag symbol was only known as the number sign?
Yeah, we don’t really remember it either.
Hashtags have not only become part of our vocabulary but they’ve become a key piece of any successful social media strategy. Hashtags started on Twitter as a way to differentiate between groups of topics within tweets. Today, they’re also used on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
According to AdWeek, 75% of social media users use hashtags. Hashtags can help you join new conversations, reach new users, grow your audience and increase engagement. You should be using hashtags but you’ve got to use them the right way. Too many people use hashtags incorrectly and that can actually hurt their content. It’s super frustrating to think you’re following best practices but only to see zero results for your effort so we’re going to spare you that pain (and wasted time!).
Here’s a guide to using hashtags that won’t hurt your reach, make you look spammy or impact your content.
How to Use Hashtags
Hashtags are keywords or phrases that follow a # sign with no spaces and they can be broken down into 3 different categories:
Content Hashtags – As the name suggests, these are hashtags related to your content or industry. They are not trending or brand-specific and they are your best way to join new conversations and reach new users. For example, MeetEdgar’s content hashtags include #socialmediamarketing and #digitalmarketing. These tags aren’t unique to us but they relate to the content we post.
Trending Hashtags – Trending hashtags are related to a recent popular conversation. These can help you increase your reach but be careful with joining trending hashtags. Make sure you do your research to find out why something is trending before you start using the tag so you don’t misinterupt why something is trending which can lead to some major social media blunders.
Branded Hashtags – Branded hashtags are your brand’s hashtag that you create and use. It’s important you encourage your audience to use them as well. You can use these on all of your posts or you can create event or promotion-specific hashtags too.
Every platform uses hashtags in a slightly different so you need to change up your hashtag depending on the platform. Let’s dig into what that means, shall we?
Hashtags are most popular on Instagram so we’ll start there. You can use hashtags in every part of Instagram including your bio, your posts (no more than 30) and your stories (no more than 10).
Your posts are the most important place to add hashtags. TrackMaven recommends using 9-12 hashtags in your posts for the best engagement but we recommend doing some experimenting on your own to understand what your audience likes.
It’s important that wherever you are using hashtags, you are mixing them up consistently. Instagram’s community guidelines warn against “posting repetitive comments or content” so you can’t be posting the same 30 hashtags on every post. We recommend splitting your hashtags into 3-4 groups and rotating through them on each post.
Now the big question on Instagram is what hashtags should you use?
There are some people who use #hashtags #on #every #word and we don’t recommend following that strategy. We recommend combining a mix of popular hashtags and niche hashtags to create your perfect hashtag groups. Popular hashtags can help expand your reach and niche hashtags will reach a more targeted audience. You need both to reach a diverse but engaged audience.
Now to actually find those post-perfect hashtags, you’ve got to do a little digging. Look at the hashtags your competitors and audience use. Search a few keywords related to your industry. If it’s a bigger hashtag, then Instagram will show you “related hashtags” in your search. You can then search some of those.
During your search, you should be on the lookout for a few things:
- How popular is the hashtag and how many posts are tagged with it?
- The types of content tagged with that hashtag. Is it quality content? Does it look like content your audience would interact with?
- What are the “Top Posts” on the hashtag search page? What is their content and who is posting? How big is the audience for the users reaching the top posts in the hashtag search page?
By doing this audit, you can understand if your content is a good fit for a hashtag, if the hashtag is a good fit for your audience and if you have a shot at reaching the “Top Posts” part of the search page.
You can also follow hashtags on Instagram so posts with a specific hashtag will show up in your feed. This way you can engage with other posts being shared around that hashtag and connect with other users sharing posts around your industry or topics. You can tell a post is from a hashtag follow because the hashtag will be in bold on top of the user who shared the post.
Finally, be sure you’re always measuring your hashtags. If you select the “View Insights” button at the bottom of your post and scroll down, you can see how much of your reach is from hashtags. Keep an eye on which of your hashtag groups are reaching the biggest audience or if your reach starts to decline, it may be time to search out some new hashtags. Hashtags will always be evolving on Instagram so measure and adjust as needed.
As opposed to its sibling site, the guidelines and best practices about using hashtags on Facebook are far less detailed and Facebook doesn’t give a ton of guidance on how you should use hashtags on their site.
Most experts agree that hashtags don’t give your content the boost in reach or engagement that they do on Instagram and it’s recommended if you do use hashtags in a Facebook post, only use 1-2 with each post.
Branded and campaign-related hashtags are your best bet for succeeding with hashtags on Facebook. For example, the Honest Company uses two branded hashtags in most of their posts: #ThatsHonest and #HonestCompany.
You can also use hashtags for events like Adobe does for their #AdobeSummit.
Or you can use popular and trending hashtags like DSW did on #InternationalWomensDay.
So you don’t need to completely ignore hashtags on Facebook but you should be more strategic about how you use them.
Twitter is the birthplace of hashtags so obviously they’re #important. 😉
According to data from Linchpin SEO, tweets with hashtags receive twice as many retweets as tweets without hashtags. But that doesn’t mean you have to cram every hashtag into a tweet. Data from that same study also shows that tweets with more than 2 hashtags show a 17% drop in engagement.
But hashtags do more than increase engagement on Twitter. They’re also useful for finding and joining conversations. You can easily search hashtags in the Twitter search function and it will pull up the most recent and top tweets including those hashtags. You can see what others are tweeting about a specific topic, add your own thoughts and join in on different conversations.
Since Twitter is the fastest-moving platform, you can also use hashtags to your advantage by joining in on trending or popular hashtags. Remember to always check what others are saying around the hashtag before you tweet! You can also use a tool like Hashtagify to find trending and popular hashtags in your industry.
LinkedIn is the latest platform to add hashtags to its platform so many content creators are still figuring out the best way to use hashtags on LinkedIn.
But most brands are using hashtags on LinkedIn similarly to how they do on Instagram. You can follow specific hashtags so trending or popular hashtag posts will show up in your feed. You can find hashtags by using the search bar on LinkedIn. LinkedIn will offer you related hashtags to your search.
Once you’ve found a hashtag that relates to your brand, you can see how many people are following it and see the top or latest posts with those hashtags.
After you follow a hashtag, it will be added to your hashtag list on your sidebar. You can easily click from there when you want to engage with other posts.
While there have not been any exhaustive studies for LinkedIn hashtag best practices, experts generally recommend using 3-4 content hashtags in each post. People aren’t usually searching for branded or trending hashtags on LinkedIn. They’re using it to find more information about their industry so instead of using the #MeetEdgar tag, we would use #socialmediamarketing or #onlinemarketing.
You should also use post-specific and industry-specific hashtags in your posts. So if we were posting about personal branding on LinkedIn, we might use #socialmedia and #onlinemarketing because that’s related to our industry but we would also include #personalbranding and #linkedIn because they are post-specific.
Much like on Instagram, engagement is important on LinkedIn. Use the capability to follow and engage with hashtags to engage with other people chatting on your topics
The TL;DR on Hashtags
The long story short on hashtags is that you should be using them in your content but how you use them will depend on the platform and your industry. Follow best practices per platform and remember to engage! Use hashtags as an engagement tool to find other similar accounts and to join in conversations.