Written by Rebecca Hansen
Ah, hashtags. The party line of the Internet Age – useful, annoying and oh-so-confusing to the uninitiated. Where to start?
Everyone knows that social media means hashtags, but your brand-new Twitter account doesn’t come with a hashtag tutorial or even a hint of an introduction. In order to use hashtags effectively, you need to understand why they exist, how they work and the best ways to make them work for you.
Why You Should Use Hashtags
Up until some brilliant tech person hijacked it, the little tiny tic-tac-toe board in the lower corner of your phone pad or above the 3 on a standard keyboard was known as a pound sign. If you still don’t know what we are talking about, it looks like this: #
The erstwhile pound sign is the symbol that is used to indicate a hashtag (presumably so named because “poundtag” didn’t roll off the tongue). And hashtags are used all over the internet to tag information and make it easier to find, just like you might have tagged your textbook pages in college so you could find pertinent information later.
Basically, the answer to “Why hashtags?” is “So people can find stuff.”
How Does a Hashtag Work?
Many different internet platforms use hashtags to organize content. Twitter is a good example, because if you aren’t using hashtags on Twitter then probably no one is seeing your content. But Instagram depends on hashtags as well, and even Facebook recognizes them.
Making a hashtag is relatively easy: just type the # symbol and then, without a space, begin to type the word or phrase you want to tag your content with. When you are finished, hit the spacebar and voila! You have a hashtag.
To use hashtags to find content, most platforms will allow you to search for a specific hashtag (i.e. #brownies) using the regular search feature. You can also click on a live hashtag, which will act as a link and take you to a list of all content using that hashtag, generally arranged from newest to oldest descending.
You should be using hashtags on social media (ok, except maybe Facebook; topic for another time). But how you use hashtags on social media will determine whether they do anything for you at all or just take up your character count.
There are basically two categories of hashtags.
The first is already established tags that people are already going to be looking for. For instance, #WisdomWednesday. If you tag a wisdom-endowing post with #WisdomWednesday (on Wednesday, because), folks who are browsing the tag in search of wisdom might see it, like it and interact with it.
The second category is hashtags that you create yourself. Perhaps you have an event – a conference, or a wedding – and you want to be able to find all user-created content related to that event. So you make up a hashtag and distribute it, and people use it, and then you have an easily-accessible list of humblebrags or insta-drunk photos.
How to do Hashtags
To get you started, here are some do’s and don’t’s for hashtaggin’ it.
- Use hashtags that are easy to remember and use. Common but specific tags are best – for instance, #CatsOfInstagram is a very specific tag that is widely used, and if you tag relevant content with it you will likely see results. #Cats is ok, but super general. #mycatwhoIlovetotakepicturesofandpostwithcremafilter is not ok on any level. You just wasted 52 characters on that embarrassment.
- On that note: if your hashtag is a phrase, always capitalize every word. Look at the title of this post and see if you can spy the absolutely-not-safe-for-work word that jumps out at you. I didn’t write that word; it’s just the unfortunate product of too many lowercase letters having a party without any adult supervision. If I had written #HintItsNotLikeThis you would never have noticed that word because it wouldn’t be there.
- If you are creating a hashtag, besides the points above, also make sure that:
- It’s a unique hashtag, not being used by another group or organization.
- It’s related to your event, at some level, so people can remember it.
- It’s not too long. Three words tops, if it’s a phrase.
- As fun as it might be to write #HashtagsThatAreActuallyWholeSentencesOrGrammaticalDisasters in your personal social media posts, steer clear when posting as your business. I mentioned it above, and it bears repeating: don’t waste your character count. Hashtags are meant to make your content more efficient.
Each social media platform has its own practices and etiquette surrounding hashtags; more to come on that in an upcoming post.