Understanding Hashtags

Understanding Hashtags

At one of my jobs, they told me to Use More Hashtags! I know this might come naturally to some folks, but I began using social media later in life and decided to research a bit. I read a lot of articles that repeated each other, but the information organized in my head in a different way. Here’s how I see hashtags.

Hashtags in General

The general advice can be summed up as follows:

  • Keep hashtags short, memorable, unique, relevant, and specific
  • Don’t overdo hashtag use
  • Use hashtags to add to a conversations (e.g., don’t use #NationalCoffeeDay just because it is National Coffee Day if you’re not writing something relevant to #NationalCoffeeDay)
  • Don’t use spam hashtags (e.g., don’t use #NationalCoffeeDay for a random photo of your cat, just to get viewers to see your post on National Coffee Day)

I found this advice for using hashtags on specific platforms:

  • Twitter: Hashtags are used to categorize posts or to focus a conversation; one or two per post is best
  • Facebook: Hashtags do not boost engagement and might even hurt it; use one or two at most, but maybe none
  • Instagram: Hashtags are used to describe the photo and to build community, and should be unique and detailed; some say to use eleven or more, while others say five or six maximizes engagement

Branded versus Unbranded

An area of confusion among my coworkers was what kind of hashtags to use. Should the hashtags contain our company name (i.e., branded), to stay unique to our events? Or should they be general hashtags (i.e., unbranded) that others might already use, resulting in more people finding us? The confusion resulted from confusion about the goals of using hashtags.

Branded hashtags are used for the following:

  • Group together viewer-generated content, posts about a campaign, or contest entries
  • Raise awareness of a campaign
  • Organize posts relevant to a certain topic
  • Drive participation and engagement within your community (for a local business, this would be the local community)

Unbranded hashtags have the following characteristics:

  • You can use them to join a trend
  • You can get people to notice you, thus increasing participation and engagement from newcomers to your community
  • They are usually global but can be local (e.g., #firstworldproblems versus #carrboroproblems)
  • You should use hashtags that fit your brand
  • You should make sure you understand the hashtag before using it (e.g., #instabuns is about bunnies, not bread buns)
  • You should use the hashtag only to add to the ongoing conversation, to avoid looking like a spammer

hands holding a phone with a laptop nearbyA key point to me was the global versus local nature of unbranded and branded hashtags, respectively. It might benefit a nationwide company to use an unbranded hashtag and have people all over the world discover the company. As a small business without online sales, we would do better to engage with people living nearby who might come into our store.

So, we would create our own, clever, branded hashtags to have an official hashtag for each event; use them on our posts; and include them on event banners and materials to encourage others to use them. On Instagram, where there is enough space, we could use both the official branded hashtag and other unbranded hashtags; it wouldn’t hurt to have engagement from people who might never visit our store. (As a final note, any engagement on Facebook at the moment helps a post gain traction, but since hashtag use doesn’t help on Facebook, and might even hurt engagement rates, it’s a moot point. As far as I know, engagement on other platforms does not increase a post’s visibility.)

If you have anything to share about your own hashtag use, please tell us in the comments.

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