Hashtags have been an integral part of Twitter for over ten years. They are very useful in allowing users to find relevant topics of interest and they are also used by platforms such as Instagram.
For beginners to hashtags, you use a hash symbol (#) before words, such as #dinner or #GameofThrones.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, this has been one of the most popular non-political hashtags to date. Many avid watchers of the show logged into Twitter while watching the episodes of Season 8 and live-tweeted their reaction using the hashtag #GameofThrones. This meant other people watching could easily see fellow viewers’ predictions and opinions of the episode in question. However, it did make Twitter a spoiler minefield the next day!
This article will explore the myths around hashtags and how to boost engagement by using them correctly.
A big myth when it comes to Twitter hashtags is “the more, the better”. In reality, hashtags should be used sparingly, only one or two at most. Twitter extended their character count a few years ago, but it still only limits users to 280, so you need to make the most out of what you have and using fewer hashtags will help.
Searching and following hashtags on Twitter is extremely easy, allowing users to find topics that interest them, like their favourite football team or a national election, quickly and efficiently. This means that using hashtags is essentially none negotiable as it is one of the best things to do to boost engagement (views/likes/retweets) with your tweets.
Each Twitter user has a personalised “Trending” panel on the right of their page. This is created by an algorithm which takes into account various factors, such as the user’s own hashtag history and country. My own panel is all currently themed around Theresa May’s resignation with General Election, Theresa May, Trexit and End of May all hashtags on there. All these hashtags are trending in the United Kingdom, where I am based but I am also politically active on Twitter, so they have been chosen for me based on that criteria.
Hashtags have garnered mixed reviews on Facebook, with marketing professionals disagreeing on how much they should be used and even if they should be used at all.
SproutSocial, a platform which manages social media for companies, indicates that simple is also best when it comes to Facebook. Restricting yourself to one hashtag gives better results, with more than one hashtag significantly reducing engagement. Only having one hashtag does mean that you need to choose it carefully so make sure you do your research before posting.
One reason not to use hashtags on Facebook is that it is more difficult for users to find the top trending hashtags. A hashtag is not a guarantee that your posts will show up when a user searches that word. The Facebook algorithm also often shows posts that it thinks are related to your search as well, which could be posts by your competitors.
One benefit of Facebook hashtags is that they do usually follow a similar style and tone to those on Twitter. This means that, though you cannot effectively search for popular Facebook hashtags, it is more than likely that Twitter hashtags will be being used on Facebook as well.
Unlike Twitter and Facebook, more hashtags are definitely better when it comes to Instagram. Seven to fifteen normally works best, with hashtags being placed at the end of posts often with a number of dashes between the main post and the hashtags.
As the number of effective hashtags can vary, it is best to test out different numbers in our first few posts. Build up from seven hashtags and see what gets you the best engagement then work with that number.
A mixture of broad and specific hashtags normally works best. A picture of a cat could have #cats but this is very broad and would probably not immediately put your photo in front the audience you are looking for as there are so many photos included in that hashtag. Therefore, you should also put #siamesecat or even #siamesekitten, which narrows it down.
Pinterest is another new user in the field of hashtags. It only started supporting them in the last couple of years. Per pin, it is recommended you use up to 20 hashtags, but no more than that. The function of hashtags on Pinterest is to group “pins” together, like on Twitter users can then search for hashtags using the search bar.
However, like on Facebook, searching for a hashtag on Pinterest does not only show pins that are relevant but also recommended pins. Therefore, it is important to use many keywords in the text of the pin in addition to hashtags.
Nevertheless, using hashtags in pins is more effective than on Facebook as pins with hashtags tend to show up more quickly on Pinterest, which is particularly essential if your pin is focussed on a particular event or season.
Finding, Organising and Posting Hashtags
It can be daunting to know which hashtags to use, so we recommend looking at what your competitors are doing. If I were a clothing brand, I would look at the social media of similar brands, such as Pretty Little Thing or Zara, depending on the kind of consumer you are targeting. Examine what hashtags they use, their number and what kinds of posts they are making. Analyse which posts people engage with most and use those as a guideline.
Once you have your first few posts up and running, start a spreadsheet to document the keywords you are using and how much engagement you get. The best practice when it comes to social media fluctuates all the time, so it is crucial not to rest but to keep examining engagement.
Regardless of how many hashtags you are using, make sure you put them at the end of your post. If you intersperse them throughout the text, the post will read less naturally and people are likely to disengage.
When you are posting on social media websites then they often give you the option of cross-posting to others. For example, Instagram will offer to post to Facebook. Yet, as has been previously discussed, the best practice concerning hashtags differs between platform so cross-posting in this way is counterproductive.
There is another way to save time which does not involve traditional cross-posting. Social media management platforms, such as Buffer and Hootsuite, enable you to create and schedule posts according to your needs. Posts can be tailored for each platform but posted with one click. All the analytics are also collected by the platform so you do not need to view them on the separate social media websites or apps.
You do not necessarily need to pay for these social media management platforms either as they often offer free accounts for small businesses with only a few social media accounts.