Though sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have been around for several years now, scores of new users representing small businesses and organizations are taking to the wide realm of social media to share news and information about their company. But despite the millions of daily users who seem to have these platforms figured out, using social media to its full potential for marketing can be a confusing process to navigate, especially when you throw in new terminology like “hashtag.”
So, what is a hashtag and what is its purpose?
You’ve probably noticed the pound symbol (#) in front of what seems like a random word or phrase on your Facebook or Twitter feed recently. (For example: It’s a beautiful #December day here in #Dallas!) When a user precedes a word with the pound symbol (#) on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the word becomes a clickable link — called a hashtag — that opens a search of public posts using the same hashtag. If another user is curious about what’s going on in Dallas that day, they can search #Dallas, and posts including the #Dallas hashtag will be aggregated to a single feed. Words can also be combined to form a hashtag. (Example: #DallasTexas, #NewYearsEve…etc.)
Hashtags work similarly on sites including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Vine, and Pinterest, but understanding the minor differences of each site will maximize your hashtag’s potential.
- Twitter’s hashtag presentation is pretty straightforward: click an existing hashtag within a tweet or type it in the search bar, and you will be met with a feed of recent posts from users across the site who included the term in their tweet. If a hashtag is tweeted frequently within a short amount of time, it may “trend” on your home page.
- You can also click or search hashtags on Facebook. You’ll be presented with popular status updates, photos or links posted by users you follow and other public profiles that include the hashtagged term. In addition, you’ll also see a list of related hashtags that are being used across the site.
- When you click or search a hashtag on Instagram, you’ll be shown a stream of photos that include the searched hashtag in the text portion of their photo update. These are public posts from users across Instagram.
- Pinterest uses hashtags a little differently than the previous examples. Hashtags are only accessible on pin descriptions, and search results for a hashtag will also include non-hashtagged terms. (Example: If you search #recipe, it will likely pull up many posts that simply include a non-hashtagged “recipe.”)
- Hashtags are simple on Google+. Click a hashtag within a post or search a hashtag in the search bar and you’ll find a stream of relevant posts that include the hashtagged term.
- Vine hashtags function similarly to Instagram’s use of the feature, just with videos.
Though hashtags can be very useful for finding and attracting new eyeballs, make sure to follow a few rules for proper “hashtag etiquette.”
First, make sure your hashtag is relevant to your post. It may be tempting to include the popular #DallasCowboys hashtag in your post on a Sunday afternoon, but unless your post is relevant to the team, avoid using the tag. If you include irrelevant tags just for possible views, you’re contributing to hashtag spam (yes, it’s a real thing!).
Secondly, don’t use too many hashtags in a single post. You don’t #want your #post to #look #like #this. Keep hashtags to a minimum (Twitter advises using two at the most) and make them only the most relevant terms.
Hashtags can be extremely helpful for finding news or reaching your target audience, so make an effort to try hashtags on your upcoming posts and test the results!