In Part 1, I’ve laid out the basics when it comes to using hashtags on some of the most popular social media platforms and sprinkled a couple of my own observations here and there, stemming from using social sites on a regular basis. If you’ve only just found this post and don’t feel like an expert hashtag user, I suggest you acquaint with the previous post first. If, however, you’ve read it already, or otherwise feel pretty confident about where and how you tag things, buckle up for a dose of personal remarks on how to best use hashtags on social media.
I’ve already explained in Part 1, that above all, hashtags serve as an information structuring device. They’re hyperlinks taking you to pages accumulating content that contains the particular hashtag.
As hashtags have become prevalent, people have devised new ways to use them, including for humorous effect, to convey deeper meaning or pack an extra punch when the number of characters you can use is limited.
In this post, I’d like to focus on providing people who are possibly trying to build their own brand, as well as small and medium companies, with some fresh ideas on how they can use hashtags to promote themselves and reach wider audiences. The previous part has already established that hashtags don’t make much sense on Facebook, so I’ll go ahead and concentrate on Twitter and Instagram, being the major players in the game of tags.
One of the things already mentioned, that I’d like to reiterate, is that you must use hashtags that are relevant to your tweets. Don’t try to get exposure AT ANY COST. A neat trick you can resort to is to jump into trending discussions, the topics of which are displayed in the left column of your timeline and right column on your profile page. They’re based on geographical location you can set manually, among other things.
Take a look at what seems to be a hot topic at the moment and think how you can add your two cents to it, staying relevant. One recurring trending hashtag you could incorporate into your business tweets is #MondayMotivation
The next thing I’d like to discuss is hashtag length and general looks. First off, I reckon that two to maybe three very short words is an absolute max if you’re trying to keep things professional and not shooting for comedic effect.
If you’re using more than one word, personally, I’m not a fan of the underscore and prefer the so called CamelCase. First, you’re saving space, and second, it just looks better.
To give you an example, I’d very much go for #VoteForPedro instead of #vote_for_pedro Using more than a single word, make sure you capitalize the initial letters.
Now, Twitter is used around the world, in many different languages. If the words in yours are inflecting to indicate their grammatical case, and at the same time you’d like to use hashtags directly in the contents of a tweet, and not as standalone extras, I suggest you resort to another trick.
Let me give you an example to make things clearer. Take Polish, which has an extensive case system. Say, one of the media outlets was covering the Polish president’s visit to London, UK. The tweet, about him visiting the Polish diaspora in the English capital could read something like:
Prezydent Duda odwiedził rodaków w #Londyn.ie [LINK]
When people are searching for hashtags, they usually type in the most basic, nominative case of the word, which in English doesn’t matter much. In Polish, on the other hand, that case would be ‘Londyn’, with ‘w Londynie’ meaning ‘in London’. As you may remember, Twitter and other platforms don’t accept the full stop as a valid hashtag character, so anything that goes after it is not a part of the tag.
This trick allows you to increase the outreach and keep the natural flow and ease of reading in an inflected language, as Polish people interested in any London-related news would search under #Londyn
If your brand has managed to build a bit of a following on social media and enjoys steady engagement, you might want to think about coming up with an original hashtag related to your company and encourage people to use it in their posts.
Promote that hashtag in all your materials and publications and ask people to, for example, upload photos of your product with the tag. Kind of like The North Face does with #NeverStopExploring This basically creates free, additional advertising for your brand. That is, if the hashtag is clever enough to actually catch up.
On a similar note, try coming up with an initiative, where you’re followers are encouraged to use an open, customizable hashtag, allowing them to add their own message, experience or point of view to it.
Say, you ask your followers to tell you how their day was by mentioning you (using @YourTwitterHandle) and adding the #MyDayIn3Words hashtag. You can then retweet the best posts to build relations with people in exchange for the exposure they provide you with within their social networks.
With the exception of trending topics and maybe retweets, the other tips discussed for Twitter are also applicable for Instagram. Thus, instead of repeating myself, I’ll share some additional musings regarding engagement and hashtag stuffing on IG.
In my personal experience, engagement on Instagram, that is receiving likes and comments, really comes down to whether your photos are good or not. The number of hashtags you attach (and remember, there’s a limit of 30 per photo) isn’t all that important.
I think it’s because considering the very nature of visual communication, it’s easier for people to quickly assess and relate to visual content. It takes only a split second for them to either like the photo or not. It’s not like they have to read the copy of a Facebook post or tweet and process the words in their heads to decide whether they can relate to what’s being communicated. It’s this instant emotional bonding that visual content creates that matters.
I did some of the bigger numbers in terms of likes and comments with photos tagged to the maximum. People didn’t care about the number of hashtags, because the content was good. The tags are now mostly hidden anyway, as only three lines of texts are visible under a photo.
The thing worth mentioning, that differentiates Instagram from Twitter in terms of hashtag use, is that the former is actually banning some of them, including pornographic, self-harm and other inappropriate content, not displaying search results.
To close out this part of the post, I’d just like to add that you shouldn’t cross-post your Twitter/Instagram updates to Facebook with all the hashtags. It just looks bad and lazy. Make the effort, as much as possible, to create unique content for various platforms, or at least upload photos/type posts without all the hashtags, where appropriate.
Wider impact of hashtags
What I find really interesting about hashtags is the way they’ve spilt outside of social media. They’ve developed almost a cult-like aura around them. It seems like putting ‘#’ in front of a word gives it some magical powers. And maybe it does, in a sense.
Hashtags are used on various outdoor advertising formats as a link between the real world and the Internet. A new mall is being built? There’s already a hashtag ready for its opening. There’s a local election? Better believe the candidates will shove their hashtags right in your face from billboards.
Hashtags are popping up immediately, when some sort of initiative is launched in the real world. They also accompany pieces of content that go viral. Just as it was the case recently with NYC’s #PizzaRat
There’s even hashtag rap, where particular verses are being summed up using a hashtag, which acts kind of like a simile. Numerous clothing pieces have been on sale, including the symbol ‘#’ or entire hashtagged words.
Hashtags have also been making their way out of social media via instant messaging apps and live chat widgets. They obviously don’t serve to structure content there, but maybe even more importantly, add extra emphasis, convey deeper meanings, or amuse users. I’ve even used hashtags in phone texts with friends and I know for a fact I’m not the only one who’s done it.
Hashtags have become a kind of a sign of time, a very much needed sieve for online content, an organizer, introducing structure to the avalanche of information.
People send tweets with only a single hashtag in them. Putting the pound symbol in front of a word, or a string of words, is a form of expression in itself that’s not easy to describe in words but well-understood by dwellers of the social media world. It’s about creating extra layers of meaning.
This entire post is a kind of a summary in itself. What I’d like to stress though, is that if you’re trying to create exposure using hashtags (and you should), Twitter and Instagram are the places to go, because they’re an integral part of both these platforms. Facebook is more about fan engagement and verbal interaction.
Don’t try to use very unique hashtags if you’re trying to get exposure – don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are already well-functioning and popular tags in most of the niches, do some research.
On the other hand, if you have a pretty well-established brand, try to come up with something that can be clearly associated with you and that people will embrace and start using to give you free exposure.
Getting noticed is just the beginning. Once you get people to find you, make sure your Twitter and Instagram bios are on point, so that people know what you’re about. Make the description unique and captivating. This is your chance to gain new followers, who you can then turn into customer. Don’t settle for ‘We’re a bakery that makes delicious cookies’, go with ‘Cookie Monster shops with us’.