If you’ve been anywhere on the Internet over the past five years, you’ve surely run into hashtags. Heck, even if you haven’t, you’ve seen them on television shows and in magazine ads. You know them: the ‘#’ followed by a phrase that’s related to whatever content you’re consuming.
Outside of knowing they’re related to new-fangled social media, though, you might not really understand what hashtags are or what they can do. Here’s a primer in hashtags, and how you can and should be using them in your content marketing.
What Are Hashtags?
Hashtags have been floating around the Internet for a while, but they really became popular with the rise of Twitter as a viable social media platform. In short, hashtags are words or phrases that act as searchable identifiers in social media posts. Think of them as keywords that get associated with a particular piece of content.
As mentioned, hashtags are searchable, which plays a huge role in how you can use them in your content marketing. Popular hashtags – that is, hashtags that are being used in a large number of posts and content – are said to be trending. Knowing what’s trending, by using the social media platforms themselves or specialized search engines and sites, is crucial; you’ll know what’s going on in the world and how to best engage with your potential customers.
Do Hashtags Help?
In a word, yes. 58% of social media users use hashtags, including 71% from mobile devices. Overall, hashtags help with customer interaction (as noted below, Facebook is the exception). And, like metadata information or keywords, hashtags are a great way to sort and label content on social media platforms.
Most of all, hashtags are now an expected part of being online. Major brands use them, and customers expect them. Using hashtags correctly and wisely is one of the best, easiest was to stand out among the torrent of content on the Internet.
How Do I Use Hashtags?
Now that you’ve got a basic idea of what hashtags are, the next logical question is…what the heck do you do with them?
The answer: a lot!
Join the Conversation Remember trending topics? They’re the 21st century equivalent of water cooler talk – things you want to be aware of, unless you’d rather be left out of the conversation. Not only can hashtags let you know what people are talking about, but they’ll let you talk right back.
Use hashtags for trending topics to join in on the conversation. Your business or service might be niche, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all you have to stick to on social media. After all, you’re trying to build a following, right? Well, customers are more likely to be engaged with a company they feel connects with them and acts like a real person. Let them know you’re aware of what’s going on in the world and aren’t just there to sell them something by discussing a hot topic and marking it with the relevant hashtag.
Seeing what people are talking about can help inspire you, too. Have you hit a roadblock about just what you should be writing about? Find out what’s on other people’s minds and spin off some content from there for an easy way to brainstorm.
Connect to Content It might seem like life would be a lot easier if yours was the only voice out there, but think of what you’d miss out on: competitors you can learn from, customers you can speak with, thought leaders you can connect with to grow your brand and expertise, and more. There’s a lot of content in the world, and hashtags can make it a snap to find it and capitalize on it.
Say, for example, there’s an industry leader you follow on Twitter. She blogs all the time, does TED Talks, gives interviews to the biggest trade publications, the whole nine yards. And you notice she posts something with a specific hashtag that happens to be on a subject you’ve also created content for. Piggyback on it! Suddenly, when someone searches for this hashtag, they see you along with this thought leader.
Of course, you can also use hashtags to connect with your own content. Whether it’s to link a series of content or connect to posts on different platforms, customers will know you’ve got a wealth of knowledge about whatever they’re searching for.
Distill Your Post to a Theme Social media in general isn’t particularly suited to being overly verbose. You’re limited by characters (as on Twitter), time (like with a Vine), or format (Instagram is geared toward images). Still, there may be times when you want to distill your post down to a single word or phrase. Hashtags are perfect for that.
If you run a green living company, your customers likely know what you’re going to be posting content about: how to live responsibly and sustainably. But that covers a lot of ground! That’s why posting with a hashtag of ‘#compost’ can help. It jumps out to readers and lets them know right away what, specifically, you’re posting about. This goes back to connecting to content: maybe you’re posting a whole series on getting started with composting; now readers will know that this is the next entry, rather than being about a different subject entirely.
Track Engagement If you’ve entered a contest on Twitter or participated in voting on a reality TV show, you already know how this works. Oftentimes companies will request that customers tweet at them using a hashtag that’s unique enough to not get mixed up with anything else. This could be to be entered into a contest, to join in a conversation, or to share photos or thoughts at things like sporting events. Hashtags are a quick and dirty way to see who’s talking about you and let you talk back just as easily.
Where Can I Use Hashtags?
It may seem like we’re focusing mostly on Twitter, and that’s because that’s the platform that introduced the general public to the idea of the hashtag. Still, most social media platforms have their own way of allowing hashtags on content.
Twitter Twitter shows trends on the sidebar of their site, and in the Discover section of their app. You can tailor which trends are shown by, for example, location, to make them more relevant to you. Use hashtags sparingly here: hashtagged tweets are 55% more likely to be retweeted, but using more than two hashtags decreases engagement by 17%.
Facebook Are hashtags always necessary on social media? Maybe not: after they were rolled out on Facebook, studies showed that the reach of posts with hashtags was lower than those without. Still, as they become more ubiquitous across platforms and media, one has to wonder if that will change. If and when you do choose to use hashtags on Facebook, use Facebook Insights to track information about your posts so you can be sure that you’re getting the most out of them.
Instagram A picture is worth a thousand words, but Instagram still lets you add a few words to your images. As opposed to other platforms, where less is more, Instagram posts with 11 or more hashtags get the most engagement. It’s a strange world out there, isn’t it?
Google+ There are two types of hashtags to consider when using Google+. The first, like on other social media platforms, are words and phrases you add yourself to tag a post. The second are provided by Google based on the content of the post. This is helpful, because while you can still customize your post, Google’s auto-hashtags will help connect your post to similar content. Google+ Explore lets you see popular content, along with trending hashtags.
Pinterest Pinterest uses hashtags a little more selectively than other platforms. For example, you can’t search by hashtags, and they’re only clickable in a Pin description. They also cross over with words in a Pin’s description or URL, so clicking on one won’t simply find more of the same hashtag. Still, they’re useful for organizing content on your board(s).
YouTube, Tumblr, and more have their own specific uses of hashtags, and as more and more social media platforms pop up, they’re sure to have their own style and implementation. As we can see, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so the most important thing is to test and measure the outcome of hashtags on your content. Are certain hashtags getting more response than others? Are you using too many or too few on a particular platform? Once you find what works best for your content and your audience, engagement becomes that much easier!
Header image used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Esther Vargas.