What are hashtags and how should I use them?

Over the last decade consulting hundreds of businesses and communications professionals on digital and social media communications – “What are hashtags and how should I use them?” have been two of the most common questions people ask. It has also become clear that many businesses that think they understand hashtags are actually not using them to their full potential. For that reason I put together a short and sweet summary to help you understand hashtags and how to use them to get more customers while engaging your current audience.

If your are not using hashtags, your content is primarily only visible to the small number of people that already follow you. It is not doing the important work of making potential new customers aware you exist.

Are you publishing to preach to the converted, or to get more awareness and customers?

How to use hashtags to get more customers while engaging your current audience.

While it is valuable to maintain a relationship with your existing customers or followers, if your true social media goal is to get more customers and followers – hashtags are likely the number one way to improve your odds of getting more customers/followers via social media. @mentions and commenting on others posts may be equally effective, but those are for another article 🙂

Hashtags have been in use for over a decade but many people still get confused as to how to use them. You may be using hashtags in a way that is cute to your existing audience but that has no significant benefit for your reach or branding.

Don’t miss out on free increased reach and awareness by not using or misusing hashtags. 

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is created by using the “#” followed by a word or group of words in posts/tweets on most social networks. Combining those two elements creates a dynamic link to all other content with that hashtag on a specific social network and “tags/labels” that content as related to a specific topic.

Hashtags are especially important on LinkedIn and Instagram. They are essential to make your content relevant in search queries that are already happening.

What do hashtags do for you?

  1. Hashtags make your content more visible in search: Hashtags label content as being related to a specific topic or keyword. This makes that content easier to be found via search within a given social network.

    For example posts that include the hashtag #recipe are far more likely to come up than content that only has recipe in the text but do not use hashtag. Many social networks to not support text search.

    Instagram for instance only supports search by hashtag. How is anyone going to see your posts about “beer” if you don’t identify it as being about #beer?
  2. Hashtags make your content visible alongside other related content: When someone clicks on a hashtag that appears in any post (yours or Elon Musks’), that link instantly brings them to a collection of all the content that includes that hashtag.

    When you use hashtags correctly your content will be visible to people that have indicated with a click that they are interested in a specific topic i.e. a place, activity or hobby. Far more people are aware of – and interested in – #whales, #California and #wildlife than #yourwhalewatchingbusiness.

    Note: Using popular hashtags that are not related to your business or content is seen as spam and highly frowned upon. i.e. #cars #sunsets
  3. Hashtags put your content into the feeds of people that follow a hashtag, even if they don’t follow you: People use social media to find content about stuff they are passionate about, not to find random businesses. Connect your content to things people are passionate about via hashtags to be visible to more potential customers.

Both Instagram and LinkedIn allow their users to follow Hasthtags/Topics in addition to specific accounts. Personally I have found following a hashtag is the best way to have relevant content appear in my feed including content related to: #SocialMediaMarketing, #ExperienceDesign and #surfing.

Following a hashtag lets you identify your interest in a topic once and invites the network to show you content related to the hashtag from new sources. Don’t you want your content to be included in those streams?

Bonus Tip: To find powerful hashtags to use, search any hashtag relevant to your business and use some of the suggested “Related Hashtags” the network presents. These have been identified by the algorithms to be common, visible and relevant to the topic at hand.

Five ways to use hashtags effectively

  1. Use at least five common, relevant and popular hashtags in every post. This will allow new audiences to discover you when they are looking for content related to their passions.
  2. Use unique hashtags consistently to brand your content i.e. a short tagline or contest name. This will allow you and others to sort and display everything ever published related to that hashtag. Remember unique hashtags have little or no benefit to helping you increase your audience.
  3. Do not waste time and space including cute hashtags that no one knows exist or are searching for i.e. #puppiesforpeace. Feel free to throw some in to have fun with your current audience but recognize these hashtags alone do nothing to help increase your audience.
  4. Consider popular and seasonal hashtags when creating your content calendar. If all you want to do is put out a pretty photo to demonstrate your photography skills it is much better to make it a photo about popular subjects #sunsets or #dogsofinstagram than #oldbarnphotos.
  5. Micro-target using hashtags. While sometimes broadcasting is key, employing hashtags that are used by your specific audience i.e. #brewingequipment vs #beer is more likely to get you in front of a potential buyer than a simple enthusiast.

Hashtags are the number one way to improve your odds of getting more customers/followers via social media.

Have questions on how to get more customers using hashtags? Ask me how.

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