Skip to main content

Everybody knows how to use a hashtag on social media, right?

Well, you’d be surprised how many people in business get it wrong or have no idea of how they work.

That’s a problem because there’s no doubt that hashtags are important to achieve effective communication online.

On Twitter and Instagram, for instance, hashtags are pretty much the only way to reach people who don’t already follow you.

Using them results in significantly more engagement and helps a business tap into already popular discussions.

One research project by TrackMaven found Tweets with hashtags had twice as many engagements as those without – and 55 per cent more Retweets.

Here’s a quick guide to why you should be using hashtags and how to use them well:

Hashtag history

The symbol itself dates back to the 14thcentury and came from ‘lb’ the Latin abbreviation for ‘pound’. In the United States some people still call it the pound sign.

The symbol appeared on telephones in the 20thcentury and was first known as an ‘octothorpe’. But it didn’t arrive in social media until 2007 when Google employee Chris Messina suggested using it to create group discussion.

Hashtag usage

Since then, hashtags have been used to categorise content to allow group discussion around a single subject. This makes popular, new or related articles and messages easier to find.

By adding a hashtag to your message, people interested in that topic can search and find your Tweet even if they don’t follow you. They are particularly useful for events (such as sporting fixtures, television programmes, charity events etc) as well as discussion topics and campaigns.  

Additionally, you can search for a hashtag and see all the other messages which have used it. Hashtags which are ‘trending’ are displayed on the home page on Twitter. On Insta you can see how popular a hashtag is by typing it in – the app shows you how many times it has been used.

Hashtag tips

No spacesGroup all words in the hashtag together with no spaces and try not to make them too long. Make sure the hashstag is clear, easily searchable and easy to understand. Capitalising the first letter in each word can make it more readable.

Not too many (except on Insta): There is a lot of debate over how many hashtags to use in one message but for most platforms, one or two is enough. After that your message can start to look like spam. The only exception is Instagram where users often include multiple hashtags. Research shows as many as 11 hashtags is the optimum number for maximum engagement on Insta.

Use existing hashtagsTapping into already popular and relevant hashtags is often a better way to engage than inventing your own, which may work for big brands but is less successful for smaller accounts.  You can use tools such as Twitonomy,Ritetag or Hashtagify to find trending hashtags and to monitor hashtag analytics.

Go careful in ads: Research shows using hashtags in ads on Twitter doesn’t always work. You may get more ad clicks without one.

Use them properly: Hashtags are there to make relevant content easy to find for users, who don’t want to scour through irrelevant material to find what they are looking for. So, make sure you message is relevant to the hashtag you use. Creating clutter or a bad user experience for those searching is bad for your brand.

They aren’t just for Twitter: Using hashtags on LinkedIn gives you business more visibility and you can also use in them in LinkedIn Publisher posts. They are relevant on Facebook, too. But don’t forget to make your Facebook posts public when using hashtags if you want to reach out – or only your followers will be able to see them. Every hashtag in Facebook has its own clickable URL link.