The Complete Guide To Social Media Hashtags

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Time to read: 13 min

What Is A Hashtag?

Hashtags are a social media asset. No matter whether you’re surfing Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, odds are you’ll come across one.

A hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded by a pound sign (#). Including these symbols in your content will allow you to be discovered by everyone, even if they aren’t part of your personal network. 

Some say that the internet phenomenon was started by Twitter users as a way to relay information pertaining to the 2007 San Diego forest fires in Southern California. However, Chris Messina, a former Google employee, was officially credited as the first person to Tweet using a hashtag. 

The first tweet using a hashtag by Chris Messina.

Beginning in July of 2009, the company caught on and began hyperlinking all hashtags in Tweets. 

Since then, the trend has only grown bigger. The pound sign has become synonymous with social media. It is used on every platform to connect conversations among people from around the globe. The word “hashtag” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2010 and the Scrabble dictionary in 2014. 

Today, hashtags are used to categorize content and can help to grow your reach to thousands of potential followers or fans. Corporations have been responsible for creating some of the most popular hashtags to promote products, services, and social causes. An Instagram post with at least one hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than a post with no hashtags. 

Why Should I Care About Hashtags?

User-Generated Content

Hashtags are powerful. They can help deliver content to your intended audience, generate the right content on your feed, and increase engagement and followers.

Social media is a crowded place. Content is posted every second, and it’s hard to break through the clutter to make sure that your content is seen by those it’s intended for. Hashtags can help sort this content so the right posts are delivered to the right users. Using hashtags in your posts will help make sure that your post is seen by the people that want to see it

When building your brand presence on social media, your hashtag is just as important as the rest of the message. Why? If you post a Tweet with a hashtag on a public account, anyone who searches for that hashtag can find your Tweet. Hashtags are a great way to reach people who aren’t directly connected with you. For businesses, this means that you can reach new customers that are looking for information about your industry. If you can answer their question or impress the user, they will be more inclined to buy your product or service. Many platforms allow you to follow hashtags to see posts from accounts that are outside of your personal network. So, even if users aren’t following your account, they may still be able to view your content. 

It’s also important that you understand what a hashtag means before associating it with your brand. You don’t want to chance putting your brand name in a query that is inappropriate or does not match your values. 

The bottom line? Hashtags do more than categorize a topic, they connect people with similar interests

Hashtagging On Different Platforms

How To Use Hashtags On Instagram

In 2018, Instagram introduced a new feature that allows users to follow a hashtag. This gives you the ability to see the content you’re interested in from different accounts that you may not follow. 

#hdwebpros on Instagram.

You can also add clickable hashtags to your Instagram bios and stories. When you add a hashtag to an Instagram story, it becomes available on the Search & Explore page, which means that anyone that searches for that hashtag will be able to view your story.

Add #hdwebpros to an Instagram bio.

There are three different types of Instagram hashtags: branded, community, and campaign. 

A branded hashtag is a hashtag that’s unique to your business. It can be as simple as your company name, tagline, or the name of one of your products. It can also be a hashtag that has nothing to do with your brand name. For example, McDonald’s #ImLovinIt or Toms #withoutshoes. Following your own hashtag is also a good way to see what people are saying about your brand and engage with your customers.

Phone Eats First

Community or popular hashtags, like branded hashtags, connect like-minded users around a specific subject. But unlike branded hashtags, community hashtags don’t need to be directly related to your business; they can be broader and much less focused. An example of a community hashtag is #PhoneEatsFirst. This hashtag connects users that take pictures of their food.

While branded and community hashtags are meant to last, campaign hashtags are usually shorter-term and run for just a limited amount of time. They are also ideal for use in stories or Instagram live.

When using hashtags in your Instagram captions, it’s important to make sure that you are staying on strategy. Adding random hashtags at the end of your posts won’t help to grow your audience. Your hashtags should be relevant to your target audience. You can look at what hashtags your audience is using and use those same tags on your posts that fit the content you’re publishing.

A good strategy is to use different hashtags in every post so that your posts don’t appear “spammy”. According to Alex Tooby, you should avoid hashtags that have been used over a million times. Using these hashtags may help you receive more likes, but they won’t help you to grow an engaged and targeted audience. 

Using specific hashtags will allow you to compete in a smaller pool, therefore giving you a greater chance of exposure.

How Many Hashtags To Use On Instagram

So, how many hashtags should you be using in each Instagram post? A lot of research has been done on this topic, and sources will give you many different answers. According to an analysis by TrackMaven, posts with nine hashtags receive the most engagement. A study by Medium found that 91% of the top brands use no more than seven hashtags on their posts. Some will even tell you to use the maximum number of hashtags allowed because it gives you more opportunities to be discovered. As of 2019, Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post.

We found that most sources will recommend using just 5-10 hashtags per post, so long as they align with your strategy. As always, you should keep your audience in mind and optimize for user experience.

How To Use Hashtags On Twitter

Twitter is the birthplace to the phenomenon that swept the internet in the early 2000s. According to Sprout Social, Tweets with hashtags receive twice as much engagement and 55% more Retweets than those without.

The idea behind the hashtag was to facilitate conversation between users. Twitter accomplished this by tying the conversations of different users into one stream, which can be found by searching for a specific hashtag or topic.

Finding trending hashtags on Twitter is simple. On the left-hand sidebar under your profile, you'll find a personalized list of the Top 10 Trends. However, these trends are catered to you and are generated based on your interests and who you follow. 

How Many Hashtags To Use On Twitter

You can use as many hashtags in a Tweet as you would like, but Twitter recommends using no more than two. Tweets with more than two hashtags tend to have a significant drop in engagement.

How To Use Hashtags On LinkedInFeatured Hashtags on LinkedIn.

Hashtags were introduced to LinkedIn in 2018. Though they are relatively new, they are imperative to your LinkedIn posting strategy. If you have a business page, you can pin three featured hashtags to your page. 

Including hashtags on your updates and articles will make your content more easily discoverable by members who follow or search for that hashtag and help you to connect with members that may be interested in your company. Hashtags can help to share your updates with people outside of your network and raise brand awareness for both your business and personal brand.

There are many ways you can use hashtags on LinkedIn. Many professionals use LinkedIn to network during industry conferences or events. Most of these events have hashtags that you can leverage to make your company’s presence known. Also, more than 70% of LinkedIn users live outside of the United States. If your post is relevant to only a certain region, you can add a destination hashtag to make sure that you are targeting the right audience.


Happy Dog Web Productions' LinkedIn update using hashtags.

While hashtags are an important element of a LinkedIn post, they are not a substitute for the copy. Your posts should always include well-written copy and a call-to-action. This is true for all kinds of content; whether you’re posting an image, video, or text. 

Because LinkedIn is a professional platform, it’s important to keep in mind that hashtags will be used differently than on Instagram or Twitter. Hashtags that are trending on other platforms may not necessarily be appropriate to use on LinkedIn. 

How Many Hashtags To Use On LinkedIn

Now, for the golden question: how many hashtags should I use? There is no limit to the number of hashtags that you can use on LinkedIn, however, using too many hashtags could result in the LinkedIn Algorithm deciding that your post is spam. Different sources will suggest using various numbers of hashtags, but most advise you to limit each post to a maximum of five hashtags.

How To Use Hashtags On Facebook

Facebook introduced hashtags in 2015, however, not much direction has come from the site as to how exactly they work or should be used. 

Many brands use hashtags on Facebook as a way to keep an eye on trends. Businesses want to know what trends their followers are talking about, and tracking hashtags is a method of social listening. A few types of hashtags a brand may use on Facebook include branded hashtags, popular/community hashtags, and topical content. Topical content is timely and relevant content that relates to something current. For example, #NationalSelfieDay occurs on June 21, and will most likely only be highly searched that day. These types of posts can receive high engagement in the moment, but most likely won’t be relevant the next day.

Facebook also has different privacy guidelines than other platforms. While using hashtags make your content visible to everyone on other networks, Facebook still upholds your privacy settings even when you use a hashtag. If your posts are set to Private (Friends Only), then even your posts with hashtags can still only be seen by users on your Friends list.

How Many Hashtags To Use On Facebook

The ideal character limit for a Facebook post is between 40-80 characters, which doesn’t leave much room for many hashtags. Unlike Twitter and Instagram, it’s best to take a less-is-more approach. According to Sprout Social, maximum engagement occurs when only one hashtag is present.

How To Use Hashtags On Pinterest

While hashtags are always hyperlinked on other platforms, you can only click and search hashtags that are in a Pin’s description. Hashtags in account descriptions, board titles or board descriptions are not clickable. 

Hashtag search results are shown chronologically on Pinterest. Searches can also return non-tagged results. The Pinterest Algorithm will match content based on keywords, and not whether the content has a hashtag or not.

Results for a #digitalmarketing search on Pinterest.

Pinterest’s mission is to help people discover and try new things. You should keep this in mind when adding hashtags to your content. 

How Many Hashtags To Use On Pinterest

Pinterest recommends choosing “a few relevant hashtags” for each Pin. Unlike Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, your Pinterest hashtagging strategy should include broad keyword hashtags. These are best for getting your Pins to surface in hashtag search results. Most people search broad hashtags, and because Pins appear in chronological order, your Pins will most likely be seen if you include broad hashtags. You should also always make sure to include specific keyword hashtags as well. While fewer people will be searching for specific hashtags, these are keyword-based and can help your content show in keyword searches. 

How To Use Hashtags On YouTube

YouTube is currently the largest video platform and one of the highest-earning websites. The platform recently released a feature that allows users to search for videos using hashtags. To add hashtags to a YouTube video, you just need to add them to the video’s description. You can add up to 15 hashtags to a video. If you add more, you will get penalized for over-tagging. Only the top three hashtags will appear above the video after uploading.

When I searched #CannesLions on YouTube, my first result was a video that featured the hashtag, which you can see above the video title.

YouTube result for a #CannesLions search.

However, if your video title includes a hashtag, then any hashtags you include in the description will not appear above the video. My second result was a video that was titled “Sprite Shower - Best of #OgilvyCannes 2012 / #CannesLions”. Since there was a hashtag in the title, you can see that there are no hashtags above the video title. 

lions

This recent change has been criticized by users for not aligning with the original purpose of hashtags. When the first hashtag was used on Twitter, it was meant to connect users to the full public conversation taking place about that topic. When you search a hashtag on YouTube, you cannot search within the comments and replies taking place on each video to see the conversations that are happening. Searching a hashtag will only direct you to videos that have that hashtag in their description. 

Though YouTube has been criticized for this change, adding hashtags above each video is another way for the platform to categorize its videos. 

Adding hashtags to your videos will help you to improve searchability and visibility. 

How Do I Use Hashtags?

Follow The Crowd

Find out what hashtags your competitors are using to determine what provides the most engagement. You can also research which hashtags influencers in your industry are using. 

Here are a few resources you can use to discover what hashtags are trending:

https://hashtagify.me

Hashtagify is a hashtag search engine and tracking tool that helps to identify hashtags based on their popularity, relationships, languages, Twitter influencers, and other metrics. 

https://ritetag.com/

RiteTag gives you hashtag suggestions based on real-time engagement. This tool offers suggestions for text and images, groups hashtags for comparison, and allows scheduling on different media platforms. 

https://www.trendsmap.com/

Trendsmap offers insight into trending topics on Twitter from around the world. 

Everything In Moderation

Hashtags can help your business grow exponentially, and it’s important that you have a strategy to keep in mind. When you use hashtags too frequently or without a strategy in mind, they can become pointless and irrelevant. 

To create an efficient hashtag strategy, you can use Excel or an Instagram analytics tool. On Excel, you can manually keep track of what hashtags you use, how often, and which ones correlate to your best-performing posts. Over time, you’ll be able to see which hashtags contributed to your most popular posts and can help you decide what hashtags work best for your brand. 

Hashtags are an effective way to help grow your social media following and engagement. However, there may be times when using hashtags isn’t necessary. It’s important to keep your audience in mind, and to make sure that you are deliberate in your hashtagging strategy.

Written by Elin Enrooth

Elin Enrooth

I am a Digital Marketing Specialist with a passion for travel and an irrational obsession with my alma mater (M-I-Z!). I am always looking to learn new stuff, so feel free to reach out if you've got ideas or just want to chat!

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