The Beginner’s Guide to the Hashtag
Updated: Dec 9, 2018
Still not totally sure how the hashtag works? Here’s the skinny on everyone’s favorite pound sign ...
Remember when we called this symbol (#) the pound sign? How about the number sign? Perhaps a tic-tac-toe board? If you’re under the age of 18 you probably don’t. Seemingly everyone now calls it a hashtag thanks to social media. The rest of us may remember its meteoric rise into everyday pop culture lexicon in the late 2000’s.
A Brief #History
Twitter initiated the use of hashtags on its social platform in 2007. The idea was originally proposed internally at Twitter by product designer, Chris Messina as a way to group similar tweets together on the platform. Messina first announced the idea on his Twitter page. He later elaborated on his blog, Factory Joe, "I’m...interested in simply having a better eavesdropping experience on Twitter."
Like with any new idea, the hashtag concept garnered both support and skepticism. According to an article published by the Smithsonian, the first widespread use of the hashtag occurred during a devastating wildfire in San Diego County in 2007. People used the hashtag as a way to stay updated about the fire.
It wasn’t until 2009 that Twitter officially adopted the hashtag adding hyperlinks so that users could simply click on the symbol to view other posts using the same tag.
The hashtag is now is synonymous with social media itself. In 2014, the word hashtag was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It has evolved into a rallying cry for widespread movements throughout the world. It also plays a pivotal role in business social media strategy. In this post we will delve into the details of hashtags, how they work and provide tips for building effective hashtag strategies.
What is a Hashtag?
A hashtag is a short link following a pound symbol. These links are directly searchable and allow social media users to easily track discussions and content around the same topic.
The symbol preceding the phrase makes it machine readable. The hashtag must be a hash symbol followed by a character and the tag is terminated by a space.
Which Platforms Use Hashtags?
Most social media platforms utilize hashtags while some do not. The top two social media platforms for hashtag use are Twitter and Instagram.
Facebook’s platform is enabled for hashtags. They can be used to promote
more exposure for a post or photo but they are not as ubiquitous or widely used compared to other social media platforms. The Bantam team suggests rarely using hashtags on Facebook, bar for the occasional opportunity day. Hashtags on Facebook denote that a topic is a known entity that many are talking about…or a punchline.
People rarely use Facebook to search conversations through hashtags as the majority of profiles are private and non-searchable to the general public.
Twitter invented the use of hashtag links and remains the most popular platform for their use. According to Social Media Today, tweets with one or two hashtags garner about 21% more engagement than those without hashtags. Users can post #Retweet for even more increased engagement. When using hashtags on Twitter, be sure to research trending hashtags relevant to your post to reach the widest audience.
Instagram also uses hashtags heavily. Instagram posts with hashtags generate at least 12% more engagement than those without. As far as social media etiquette is concerned, more hashtags on Instagram is okay. In fact, many top Instagram influencers use a bevy of hashtags to reach more followers. The maximum number of hashtags per Instagram post is 30.
LinkedIn allows for hashtags as well. Use hashtags on LinkedIn sparingly as the platform is used for professional networking and not necessarily posting “viral” content. Bantam recommends taking it on easy on the hashtags on LinkedIn—posts should appear clean and professional.
Choosing the right hashtags for your content should be an integral part of your overall social media strategy. As we discussed in the hashtag use by platform breakdown, nobody wants to look at posts littered with hashtags. The fewer, more effective and relevant hashtags the better.
Hashtags for Discovery
Think about how you want your hashtags to serve your brand. Many organizations and businesses use hashtags as a discovery tool. One of the best ways to use hashtags for discovery is by mixing hashtags with differing visibility levels. Create a list of relevant hashtags in four separate categories: extremely popular (1,000,000 + posts), moderately popular (up to 500,000 posts), niche specific (up to 50,000 posts) and branded hashtags (specific to only your brand). Combining hashtags from these different categories in posts will help draw audiences and interest from large pools to niche-specific audience members.
Hashtags for Branding
Another way social media strategist’s use hashtags is for branding. These hashtags are used similarly to slogans, used for recognition and brand association. They are also an effective way at generating user-generated content (UGC). Audiences can share a picture associated with your company’s brand or product and share it to Instagram or Twitter with #yourbrandshashtag to be discovered and re-shared on the brands platform. The more followers you have, the more audiences want to have their photos shared on your page #klout.
Creating Effective Hashtags
For optimal hashtag efficacy, avoid using special characters such ampersands or exclamation points. One of the best ways to create better readability is by embedding capital letters for phrases such as #WorldSeries2018 or #SanFrancisco. If you’re creating a hashtag from scratch, make sure to keep it concise as possible and easy for people to spell and remember.
If you plan to use a custom hashtag for a brand or an event, couple it with other searchable, evergreen hashtags. For example, a venue in Richmond promoting a concert may include the #BandName as well as other relevant tags such as #Richmond or #IndieMusic.
When developing a hashtag strategy, make sure to take advantage of widely used tools:
Want to learn more about hashtag research tools? Check out Bantam's top 10 list of our favorite's here!