This article was updated on Sept. 7, 2017.
Hashtags, hashtags, hashtags! You see them online, on just about every social network website. Sometimes you see them in abundance. Sometimes they’re silly, and sometimes they look like they serve a purpose. So, what are hashtags and do you know how to use hashtags on Twitter (among other social platforms)?
In this article, you’ll find out what hashtags are, why you should start using them with your social media posts, and how to maximize your reach with them.
What are hashtags?
Hashtags aren’t new. In fact, the first reference to the hashtag was in Internet Relay Chat (IRC), back in 2000. Hashtags are words or short phrases that are preceded by the symbol (#), which is most commonly known as the number sign. These terms are clickable, and allow you to identify specific topics.
If you’re one for official definitions and search for “what are hashtags” online, you’ll find this definition on Dictionary.com:
On social-media websites, a word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it.
For example, in Twitter, under the hashtag #wordpress, you can find out what people from around the world have been tweeting about that topic. This is also particularly handy for events or conferences, especially to track and document vital information such as what attendees, speakers and event organizers are talking about.
With hashtags, you can use all lowercase, or even use camel case lettering, but no spaces. Hashtags are not case-sensitive. For example, if you want to use #WordPress instead of #wordpress, the term will still click through to the same topic stream.
Where can you use hashtags?
You can use hashtags on most social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Search, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine and Flickr.
Unfortunately, LinkedIn does not use hashtags, so if you’ve been using them, you probably should stop, as they are not really effective on that social network.
How to use hashtags on Twitter
It’s no secret that hashtags do well on Twitter. If you want to connect to this potential pool of customers, check out these tips for how to use hashtags on Twitter.
Research to maximize reach.
Don’t go overboard.
Replace phrases with tags.
Monitor Twitter trends.
Ready to learn more? Stop asking yourself, “What are hashtags?” and read on to get in-depth advice for how to use hashtags on Twitter.
1. Research to maximize reach
Maximizing your reach by using hashtags boils down to the fact that you need to do some research. Yes, it’s much like researching keywords for your website’s content. Make a list of terms, and look to see if that hashtag is trending or if it has a large enough volume of people using it. If you just add a hashtag all willy-nilly to your social media posts, you aren’t going to get as much reaction.
While some people joke around and use hashtags frivolously, they are not always effective in increasing reach when used without any research. If you’re talking about blogging, use #blogging. If you’re talking about search engine optimization, use #SEO. You can use a couple hashtags, but make sure to keep them relevant to what you’re posting.
You can research hashtags with a few different tools. Here are just a few of the many tools out there that you can use to look up search terms, including hashtags, and plan your social media campaigns.
BuzzSumo allows you to track topics across several social platforms, find out what articles are popular, what’s trending, and more. You can use this tool to find excellent content to share, and to help plan your own content marketing strategy. There are other tools to analyze your Facebook page, find influencers to connect with, and much more.
With Tagboard, you can search using hashtags, and the platform produces a nice content grid of what’s going on across several social networks. Tagboard doesn’t do any side-by-side comparisons or content analyzing; it is purely a tool to pool together posts from several social channels.
Like Buzzsumo, you can share the results, and even plan content and social marketing campaigns around the results. For example, if you see a topic come across any of the social networks, but you haven’t covered it, you can add it to your content creation to-do list.
Google Trends allows you to search for just about any term, including hashtags. You can search based on location, by time, by category, and by type of search. So, you can look for specific hashtags that have been used in videos on YouTube, images, news, or even Google Shopping.
Plus, you can use Google Trends to figure out the best time to post using a particular hashtag. This is great because if a term is constantly trending during certain days or certain hours, you can schedule your posts for better reach.
2. Don’t go overboard
After you’ve done all that research, it’s easy to want to add every possible hashtag to your tweet. No matter how tempting it is, don’t overload your message with every possible variation of the tag. You only have so many characters to get your point across. Don’t sacrifice pertinent knowledge for the sake of an extra tag.
3. Be relevant
It’s important to stick to your niche. Sure, casting a wide net sounds appealing, but sending a targeted message, with the appropriate searchable hashtags, will likely yield more results than something chock-full of vague, large-scale tags (i.e., #food vs. #veganrecipes).
4. Replace phrases with tags
There’s no hard-fast rule about where you place your hashtags. Save room on character counts by replacing phrases already present in your tweet with tags you plan on using (i.e., Best #ChocolateCake I’ve ever had. #BakingTips).
5. Monitor Twitter trends
Just like the tools mentioned above, you can see what’s trending on Twitter by simply visiting their site. If you notice that a hashtag is exploding and it relates to your overall social strategy, then capitalize on the trend. But remember, don’t jump onto a tag just because it’s doing well. The last thing you want to do is be tweeting about #CutePuppies when you’re promoting a message about recipes.
Why should you use hashtags in your social media posts?
Now that you know how to use hashtags on Twitter (and to be honest, the tips can be applied to other forms of social media, too), let’s discuss why you’d want to use them. You should use hashtags in your social media posts because they can be searched.
Crazy as it is, people are actually using social media to look for things that they can find on Google or Bing. In fact, many companies do use social media as part of their SEO strategy.
If you’re planning to sell your services or products, and are investing in advertising, you can optimize your ad with a couple hashtags to reach more people. It doesn’t cost anything to add hashtags. So why not give it a try?
The big takeaway
The point is, you need to get on the wagon and use hashtags for social media. Yes, it might be as tedious as doing keyword research, but the end result is a return on investment — which means traffic, engagement and likely more money in your pocket.
Do you use hashtags for your social media marketing strategy? If so, what tips do you have to help others needing a helping hand in social media? What tools do you like to use when researching for the best hashtags for your campaigns? Please share in the comments!
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Also published on Medium.