What is a Hashtag, and How do hashtags work?

Hashtags came out on Twitter in 2007, caught on, spread to all social media platforms, and changed the way people share and search for social posts.

A lot of things about social media go unexplained. New features and trends seem to magically appear and evolve. Younger generations that grew up during the same time that social media “grew up”, if you will, are adept at figuring out new features and catching on to trends. Older generations… not so much. But that’s okay. Hashtags really aren’t that complicated.

Basically, what is a hashtag?

Adding hashtags to your posts help them reach a larger audience; it’s a social media optimization technique. If you’re familiar with SEO practices, a hashtag is analogous to a keyword for which you’d optimize a page on your website.

If you want to optimize your business’s social media posts using hashtags, you’ll want to use a combination of specific tags for your company and general tags that people might use to search for posts like yours.

Even though hashtags originated on Twitter, they have become very popular on all social media sites. I’ll give you an example using Instagram (IG).

Hashtag Example: Bob’s Bicycles

Let’s say you own a bike shop, Bob’s Bicycles, that offers weekly discounts. This week you’re offering 20% off bike helmets for anyone who buys a new bike.

You’ll want to add a specific hash tag for your company, another hash tag specific to your store’s weekly discount campaign, and then a handful of other tags to increase visibility.

Company tag: #bobsbicycles
Campaign tag: #bobsbikedeal
Tags to increase visibility: #biking #bikes #bicycles #bicycling #bikingadventures
#fitness #outdoorsports #moutainbiking #lovemybike #bikelife #cycling #roadbike
#bikesafety #helmetsaresexy

The company tag is the same as the username you’ll use to create the Instagram profile for your business, so it’s best to make this the name of your company. Whenever clients or customers search for your business’s profile page on IG, they’ll search for #yourbusinessname.

Don’t use spaces or punctuation in your tags. Adding a space signifies the end of a tag. In “#bobs bike deal”, only “bobs” is part of the tag.

The tags that increase visibility are words or phrases that people might use to look for posts related to a given topic. If Bob wants his posts about his weekly discount to show up to anyone looking for posts related to biking, outdoor sports, exercise and fitness, or safety gear, he should use a combination of tags like the ones listed in the example.

The Campaign Tag

Your social media campaigns can be any of the following types (or others):

  • Sharing a weekly discount
  • Advertising an annual sale
  • Promoting exclusive members-only offers
  • Track contest participants (to engage with your customers, you could say that the person who shares the best picture of them using your product with #somethingorother wins some prize)
  • Promoting a new product line or bestseller, etc.

For each campaign you do, you want to have ONE campaign hashtag. This is ideal for branding purposes. You’ll also want it to be unique and specific to your business so that the right people see your posts. By this I mean that you don’t want to use a hashtag that could have an alternate meaning. If you posted something on Instagram with #hogs because you sell motorcycles, there’s a good chance you’ll show up along pictures of pigs rolling in the mud or dressed in tutus for some uncomfortable reason.

IMG_3657What “visibility” tags are related to your posts?

If you want ideas for what tags would go well with a post to increase its visibility, do this:

Search for a simple tag that obviously relates to your post. Bob could do #bicycle, which would appear in a dropdown menu. (I’m still using Instagram as an example. This process can be replicated on other sites.) IG shows us how many posts already use this tag (221,776 and climbing). Obviously, this tag is popular, but that also makes showing up in search results for this tag more competitive. That doesn’t mean Bob can’t use it, but he would be wise to supplement it with other, less competitive, tags.

IMG_3658Clicking on #bicycle in the dropdown menu takes us to the search results page. At the top of the page, there is a list of related tags that Bob could also use. I would suggest clicking on some of them to see what types of posts show up (remember the hog example?). Some tags might seem relevant when they’re really not the best choice.

Lastly, you should also check to see what “visibility” tags your competitors are using because you’ll want to show up in search results for tags for which they show up.

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