Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I see a post from my teenage sister showcasing her recent senior photos. In her caption, she uses an unfamiliar hashtag: #sps. After a quick search, I learn the acronym means “senior-picture-Sunday” and 85,787 other teens have used the same hashtag on Instagram.
Hashtags may seem like an annoying habit of teenagers and millennials, but they are becoming more and more necessary in the fields of marketing and public relations. Hashtags can enhance the brand promotion you are already doing online. If you’re feeling a little hesitant, here are a few principles to get you started.
Hashtags consist of the pound sign followed by a word or phrase. They are used on social media sites to aggregate content by turning those words into a searchable link. Hashtags enable you to track topics, engage in conversations and connect with new audiences.
To ensure your hashtags are effective, don’t use any spaces, punctuation or special characters. I also recommend capitalizing the first word of each word to increase readability. Singer Susan Boyle’s PR team learned this the hard way when they posted this unfortunate hashtag:
Many Twitter users saw “Su’s-anal-bum-party” and couldn’t stop mocking it online. My husband read the hashtag as “Susana-bump-Arty.” Talk about confusing (and embarrassing). With a few capital letters, #SusanAlbumParty could have been a successful promotion instead of a hashtag disaster.
Hashtags on Facebook
General rule of thumb: Don’t use hashtags on Facebook. Research also shows that hashtagging on Facebook posts doesn’t boost engagement, so it may not be worth your time. If you do decide to use hashtags, don’t use more than one or two.
Facebook also proves to be a more difficult platform for tracking hashtags. The majority of Facebook profiles are private, so posts from most users won’t be visible when you search the hashtag.
Hashtags on Twitter
Twitter is home to the hashtag, so hashtags should be used frequently. Tweets with one to two hashtags receive twice as much engagement than those without and are 55 percent more likely to be retweeted. But don’t use more than one or two hashtags: engagement drops by 17 percent when you do.
Twitter also provides a list of trending topics and hashtags each day. Monitor these topics and join in the conversation. Just be sure to do your research before jumping on the hashtag bandwagon. DiGiornio Pizza posted this tweet without realizing the hashtag was to raise awareness for domestic violence, which resulted in immediate backlash.
Hashtags on Instagram
If you want to get a little hashtag crazy, Instagram is the platform for you. Use 11 or more hashtags for maximum engagement on Instagram; your post will appear under multiple topic searches. Make sure that each hashtag is well thought out and relevant to your brand or else your hashtags will feel like spam.
Hashtags can be used to monitor conversation about your brand, products, and related topics. Search the hashtag on Instagram and see the top and most recent posts and find related hashtags. You can even follow the hashtag to get regular updates on the Instagram chatter.
Getting Started With Hashtags
If you’re just getting started, don’t worry. “When it comes to hashtags—just do it,” says Emily Colon of Y Digital. “The more you use hashtags, the easier it becomes.”
I would advise implementing some tried-and-true hashtags until you get more comfortable. Some examples are #ThrowbackThursday, #NoFilter and #ProTip. These hashtags aren’t timely or controversial and will elicit positive responses from your audiences.
#ThrowbackThursday: Post with an old photo or video to create a nostalgic feel like Pepsi did in this tweet. This hashtag is popular on all social media platforms.
#NoFilter: Post with a high quality photo without using filters or photo editing to highlight the natural beauty of a person, object, or place. I love this use of the hashtag in this Facebook posts by the Nature Conservancy Australia.
#ProTip: Post with real tips about product benefits or give comedic advice to your followers. A hashtag like this gives you the opportunity to join in the sarcasm and humor of Twitter as Skittles did in this tweet.
Using hashtags might feel a little unnatural at first, but once you get more comfortable, you can join in current conversations and even create your own hashtags for product promotions, events, and Twitter chats. One day soon you’ll feel the excitement of crafting the perfect hashtag and you’ll know that you #NailedIt.
Written by Maggie Kuta.