Feeling a bit ‘in-the-dark’ about hashtags? Ever tried to tag someone using a hashtag and wondered why they never responded? Have you been adding the # to random words just because you think you ‘should’ be using them, but haven’t the foggiest idea about what they actually do? Great! Read on because although you’re certainly not alone, by the end of this post you’ll be able to happily cancel your subscription to the #HashtagNoIdeaclub (don’t be offended - I just made that up). Read on - it’s super-simple, promise.
What are hashtags?
They’re little search tools that help you find your tribe and help your tribe find you. That’s because a hashtags act as a kind of category label that people use to group their posts under certain themes or categories that other people are using to find stuff.
In other words, it's simply a way for people to find content and have their content found. A way of organising & categorising in an attempt to match what people are looking for with content that's relevant.
So on this blog post, I could use #hashtag (and I have), so that it'll show up when someone searches the hashtag #hashtag. It’s a way for someone to find content that’s specifically relevant to what they’re looking for, and a way for me to show up in those searches. In other words, by incorporating #hashtag in my post, I’m indicating that this content is relevant to hashtags and will show up in a search on that. See what I mean? Easy!
Although I’m sure you already get this bit, you create a hashtag by adding the # sign to the front of a word or a phrase. Please know however, that hashtags don’t contain spaces or special characters. So if it’s a phrase like #hashtagninja, placing a space between ‘hashtag’ & ‘ninja’ would create the hashtag #hashtag without the ‘ninja’ bit. Probably stating the obvious, but still …
And, although you can’t use special characters, you can use capitals. Using capitals can be a good way to make a phrase hashtag easier to read, for example, #HashtagNoIdeaClub … and this is not you, so don’t worry about that one.
How do they work?
I’ve pretty much covered that in the ‘what’ paragraph, but basically it’s a way of applying a label or keyword category to a piece of content (any content) as a way to be found in searches. Tapping on or clicking on a hashtagged word in a post or message, will show you other posts, Tweets, messages and content that includes that hashtag.
Hashtags operate in much the same way on all platforms, although they’ll be more useful on some depending on the ‘culture’ of that platform or network. For example, although hashtags started as a Twitter thing, Instagram is the network whose users utilise them the most. And, while you can use hashtags on Facebook, they haven’t really taken off on that platform, so results may be scanty. It’s worth having a snoop though - you never know what you’ll find.
Why should I use hashtags?
Depending on which platforms you’re most active on, and where you’re at in growing your business, there may be some good reasons to use hashtags. If you’re primarily on Facebook, then you can do a bit of research and see if it’s worth incorporating a few that are super-relevant to your industry or niche. Same with Twitter. You won’t need many (up to 3), just really relevant ones that serve the purpose of you being found in that category.
If you’re on Instagram, then you’ll most probably want to give bit of strategy to this and get your hashtags sorted. Instagram is a hashtaggy platform and using them makes a real difference to finding people and being found - this is critical if you’re trying to grow your following.
Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags in a single post and if you’re just starting out, or trying to grow your following, I would recommend using all 30. It’s a completely acceptable practice on Instagram and if you put your hashtags in the first comment, rather than the description of your post, you preserve the message you want to share without risking readers being side-tracked by hashtags, or appearing unnatural and spammy.
Go to one of Pepper Street Social’s Instagram posts (click here, or click on the Instagram icon anywhere on the PSS site), and you’ll see what I mean. I use all 30 allowed hashtags, but I put them in the comments section so they don’t interfere with my message.
How do I know which hashtags to use?
Do some simple research.
All you need to do is click on the search icon in Instagram, or Twitter, or Facebook, and type in the hashtag you’re interested in - see what comes up.
A good starting point is to find someone in your industry or niche and see what hashtags they’re using. Make a note of them and go search those hashtags.
In Instagram, when you go to ‘Search’ (on mobile), you can select the type of search you want to conduct i.e. you’ll see the options ‘Top’, ‘People’, Tags’ & ‘Places’.
If you click on ‘Tags’, and type a #hashtag in, Instagram will show you how many posts are using this tag. Cool hey. So after you’ve found some tags that are relevant to your business, pop them in the search to find out how popular they are - the more posts that hashtag appears in, the more people are using it and searching it, which means your reach is greater. See?
Yikes! This has gone a bit longer than I’m aiming for at the moment - I know you’re too busy to read massively long blog posts, so I apologise for that, but I do hope this one’s been particularly useful.
Go muck around with hashtags and if you’re on Instagram, use them well and you’ll see a difference in your engagement - it actually works. And if you need a hand with this stuff, send me a message (firstname.lastname@example.org, fill in the contact form below, or on my 'Work' page) - I’m about to release a brand new package where you can work with me for a month getting Instagram sorted and seeing results. It’s personally tailored coaching, but you do the work, so it’s super-affordable and an excellent investment … even if I do say so myself ;-)