The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Hashtags

The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Hashtags

Friends don’t let friends #use #too #many #hashtags

During my social media training courses and consultancies, I’m almost always asked the questions “what is a hashtag?” and “when should I use one?”, and the concept of hashtags is probably one of the more challenging lessons of anyone new user to twitter or instagram. 

As succinctly as I can, here are the answers to those questions:

What is a hashtag?

Wikipedia says “A hashtag is a type of label or metadata tag used on social network and microblogging services which makes it easier for users to find messages with a specific theme or content.”

It’s a specific conversation topic. For example #MWL17 (Marketing Week Live), #BBCQT (BBC Question Time), #FACup, #UKBusinessLunch, etc. It’s a chance to offer a view on a particular topic and to be part of a conversation.

What is it not?

This (taken from an actual tweet)…

 When should I use one?

A hashtag is a specific conversation. It’s a group – be it 50 or 5000 people – talking about a particular topic, rather than just making a noise that can reach a wider number people. Note, I said “number of people”, not “audience”. There’s a big difference between the two.

Once you’ve learnt this, here are some more practical steps for their use.

Before you add a hashtag to your social media posts, use the search tools to understand how it’s currently being used. Ask youself why you are using it? If it’s only because you want your tweet to be seen by more people, then is it worth it?

One article I read on Buffer said “Tweets with one or more hashtag are 55 percent more likely to be retweeted.” However, when a tweet contains more than two hashtags, engagement actually drops by an average of 17%. Read that again: “actually drops“.

Also, search in twitter and instagram to understand who else is using the hashtag. For example,  I’ve just seen a tweet that said “15 Top Expert #Ideas to Get Your #Business Off the Ground & Succeed” Is hashtagging #Ideas of any use? I doubt it. In fact, this is currently what is being tweeted with the hashtag #ideas. Relevant to the post? I’ll let you decide.

On Instagram, you’re allowed to use up to 30 hashtags. Although, that doesn’t mean you should. One post from a brand that I’ve just looked at, has added this at the end of their image description: “#pr #influencer #socialmedia #smallbiz #onlinemarketing #digitalmarketing #entrepreneur #womeninbiz #success #inspiration #successfulwomen #marketing #onlinebusiness #motivation #socialmediamarketing #femaleentrepreneurs #youngentrepreneurs #womenentrepreneurs #influencermarketing #blogger #workfromhome #beyourownboss #freelance #goals #focus #gratitude #hardwork #blog #networking #noregrets”

Whereas there is no figures that say using this many hashtags has a detrimental affect on your post views, there are no figures to say that they have a positive one either. What I would say, in my experience, is that over-hashtagging can distract from the core message of the post and looks spammy, Even Instagram themselves suggest using only 3 hashtags.

Action Points

  • Use one hashtag in twitter, three in instagram – But know why you’re adding them first.
  • Research a hashtag before using or creating one.
  • Focus on the quality of your content. This will have a far reaching benefit to your engagement than a hashtag will.

Of course, these are my opinions. Do you agree or not? What examples of good and bad hashtags stand out for you? I’d love to read your views.


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