What is a hashtag? Reasons and ways to use them with confidence

I’m often asked, “what is a hashtag is and how do they work”.

Hashtags can look really confusing, bunched together on a social media post. 

To add to the confusion they are often used incorrectly.

Let’s learn what hashtags are and how to use them with confidence on social media.

What is a hashtag?

Hashtags explained

Use hashtags to associate a social media post with a topic. A hashtag could represent an opinion, an event, a task, a pursuit, a mission or a movement.

They enable people to track that topic and see posts that are similar.

On most platforms, you can click any hashtag and reveal all posts that use the hashtag. It helps if you are browsing for something or in a particular mood.

Results are ordered chronologically (Twitter/Facebook) or by popularity (Instagram).

You can delve deep using hashtags to find posts of interest and people with similar (or adverse) mindsets. 

On Instagram and LinkedIn, you’re able to follow a hashtag so you can discover brands or people of interest whilst you scroll the feed. Just hit the hashtag and click FOLLOW.

Using Twitter, you’d need to use the advanced search feature where you can search a hashtag and save that particular search to visit later.

Facebook uses hashtags but they are not a dominant part of the platform – you can’t follow a hashtag but you can search one. Or click one to see related posts.

Pinterest also uses hashtags but at the moment I can’t figure out how they order the search results, it seems fairly random.

Hashtags for business

The way people explore social media via hashtags helps business owners to target audiences.

If you’re a business owner you can identify people who are interested in what you have to offer. 

Or find accounts in the same industry that will inspire you.

What you would do is follow hashtags that have something to do with your business. Scan through that feed, follow a few interesting people and get involved in the conversations.

I heavily advise against being detached and spammy, commenting for the sake of it. You’ll get your account blocked. 

Only comment when you have something intelligible and interesting to add to the exchange.

Be open and honest – be social.

Hashtags to organise content

From a business owners perspective, you can see that hashtags are a great way to organise material, find inspiration or start important conversations. 

Use hashtags within posts so your content is easily discoverable. 

Discover like-minded people, follow and connect with them, and start to build relationships.

Marketers use hashtags they’d like to be found for – such as #travelfrance. They directly target groups and spark engagement. 

How to write a hashtag

All hashtags start with a #.

The old skool name for that is the ‘number sign’. North Americans know it as the pound sign: not to be confused with the £ (pound sterling).

It’s more recognisable these days as the hash key or hash sign.

The text for your hashtag comes directly after the hash sign. Do not use a space. You’ll be unsuccessful in creating a hashtag if you use a space between the hash sign and the text. 

If your hashtag contains multiple words, group them. Use a space between each hashtag i.e. #travelfrance #kaydeeweb

We usually keep hashtags lowercase even when they contain more than one word. Adverse to everything we learnt at school. An example is #travelwebgirl.

Some people use capital letters known as camelcase. I.e. #TravelWebGirl. This can help distinguish words. It’s really a personal preference but keep it consistent.

Uppercase letters will not alter search results. Searches for #travelwebgirl, #TravelWebGirl and #TRAVELWEBGIRL will have the same outcome. Capital letters tend to be a bit ‘shouty’ though.

Numbers are supported, an example being #TyneTeaAt12.

Do not use punctuation marks: commas, full stops, exclamation marks, question marks and apostrophes will break the hashtag.

Don’t use special characters like an asterisk (*) or an ampersand (&).

Don’t use the @symbol. The @ symbol represents a social media handle and will tag an account. I.e. @kaydeeweb. This is known as an ‘at mention’ or just a ‘mention’.

How many hashtags to use per post

There’s a fine line between creating an effective post and overusing hashtags so that the post looks spammy. And each social platform is different. 

Use hashtags at the end of a post unless it really makes sense to use one within the text post.

Instagram is the king of hashtags and it is okay to use lots when posting to the grid. The maximum is 30.

On an Instagram story you can use 1 clickable hashtag stick but 10 hashtags in text.

Twitter has a maximum word count, and Pinterest, LinkedIn and Facebook users aren’t so used to seeing hashtags, so my advice is to use fewer. Four is a good number. You’ll get away with a few more on your LinkedIn post.

Which hashtags should you use?

Use hashtags according to industry and target audience, those that are relevant to your business and to the post.

Let’s imagine you run a holiday cottage in the Cotswolds. 

Try to put yourself into the mind of an ideal customer – they would like to travel and/or appreciates historical areas, quaint villages, traditional English pubs, hiking and biking.

Whilst browsing, your ‘target’ would follow hashtags such as #bikingholiday #hiking #adventures #travelengland. 

Hashtagging posts in this way will help your post to appear in the feed of an ideal client.

We, humans, spend hours on the internet just to be inspired, educated or entertained.

When people find an interesting post, they will more than likely look at the profile page to find out if the account is genuine.

So make sure your social profiles are up-to-date, friendly, real and full of inspiration. 

Overused hashtags

There is no official list of hashtags, no Oxford dictionary we can use.

Some hashtags are used so frequently that a small business would never have a chance of appearing in a search for them. Avoid hashtags that are used in great volume.

There are a few websites that you can use to help you find effective hashtags so you can stand out from all the other posts – Hashtagify.me and RiteTag.

The TailWind App is also great for scheduling Instagram and Pinterest posts and will suggest hashtags for each. They are colour coded to highlight how overused each is.

Trending hashtags

Popular hashtags change due to news and fashion.

There are some constants though.

Most popular (trending), relevant and frequently used hashtags per platform can be found for free on websites like ritetag.org – the Hashtag Suggestion Tool is my current favourite.

On Twitter trending hashtags are easy to find. You’ll see them in the sidebar on a desktop.

Using a phone, hit the search button. Straight away you’ll see ‘Trends for you’ which is personalised to your account. 

Hit ‘Show more’ to find a whole new world of trending hashtags around the world.

Using amusing or obscure hashtags

Obscure and amusing hashtags appear most frequently on Instagram because of the unlimited space for each post.

A simple hashtag can change the way a photo is perceived. Using hashtags might make sense of a post, although it can also do entirely the opposite too. 

You’ll see a lot of people using hashtags that have no connection to the photo – don’t use hashtags in this way.

Hashtags that are unrelated to content are futile and devalues the post. Using too many hashtags on one post looks hard-sell and spammy. 

Some people use a certain hashtag on each and every post for continuity, the story may become clear when reading the text or visiting a profile.

Other hashtags can hint at sarcasm or be amusing, so have a bit of fun with them.

How to create a hashtag

It’s easy to create a hashtag.

To create a hashtag just use the hash symbol before a series of words, no spaces. 

If the has tag has never been used before you can invent your own just by using it. Just check that it isn’t in use first – you could be marketing to the wrong people or get crossed wires.

Check Google to see if the hashtag already exists. Literally, search for the hashtag. You’ll find plenty of information and can find out how it’s been used in the past.

Use a new hashtag to market a product, motivate people, start a movement or strike up a new conversation about a topic you are passionate about. 

People know they can simply search, follow or use that hashtag and they will be able to join in.

Hashtags up can be a bit of fun, showing a feeling or a thought. These aren’t highly searched but can help a post to make sense and be more personable – such as #randomthought.

Register a hashtag

A hashtag can be registered, although it is not strictly necessary.

“Registration provides you with a record of your claim that can be used in any trademark or other legal challenge.”

States Twubs, one of the bigger hashtag online directories.

Registration helps people to find the original source of a hashtag, so it is well worth it if you are building a following.

Registration doesn’t necessarily stop other brands from using the hashtag.

A website called Twubs provides a directory of hashtags registered to users.

Hashtags on images

A hashtag is not searchable on a graphic or photograph. A hashtag must be written, clickable text.

However – Instagram stories support hashtags and they are searchable.

Using the text option, 10 hashtags can be added to an Instagram story. 1 clickable hashtag can be added via story stickers.

What have we learnt about hashtags?

  • Hashtags must start with a #.
  • There must be no spaces in any one hashtag.
  • Hashtags are more commonly lowercase.
  • To decipher words camelcase can be used.
  • Numbers can be used in hashtags.
  • A hashtag can be completely made up.
  • Follow hashtags to find like-minded people.
  • Brands or movements may find it useful to register the hashtag.

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