What is a hashtag?

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For this blog, we’re going right back to basics. Over the last 10 years, the use of smartphones, apps and social media has increased exponentially with accessibility to digital technology. Words like ‘trending’, ‘analytics’ and ‘hashtags’ are commonly used by those in the social media arena. Yet, for many, the world of social media still seems a foreign language. We hear a lot of questions in our training relating to these terms. Particularly from smaller organisations, where there just aren’t enough hours in the day to learn every tool out there. How can we equip people to be strategic? We’re exploring one of the most commonly heard questions – precisely what is a hashtag?

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a symbol (#) that is placed before selected words, to increase the visibility of your posts or pictures. Using hashtags helps you to connect with others who are interested in similar topics. For example, if you are a shoe brand, using #shoes or #fashion could attract an audience who are searching for those words (and products). Likewise, if you are a record store then using #vinyl or #music may attract an interested audience.

What platforms use hashtags?

Hashtags initially rose to popularity on Twitter, but now most social networks utilise them. Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook have all seen the potential of hashtags and they can be used to connect to great effect.

Why are hashtags used?

The advantages of using a hashtag is that it can quickly connect you with others – enabling you to find like-minded people, and reaching out to people far further afield than your own geographical network. Hashtags can prove invaluable on social media platforms to cut through the noise and identify conversations that you’re interested in or attract people to you who are interested in what you have to say. Hashtags categorise your content to make it easily found by others under relevant terms.

When to use it?

1 – To draw attention

A few carefully selected hashtags can let others know that you’re relating to a particular topic. For example, if your post is about fashion then #fashion and #clothes could be helpful; if your post is about an inspiring quote you heard then using #inspirationalquotes would reach a wider audience.

Hashtags are a great way to stand out from the crowd and connect with others. Spend some time looking into what people are using. It’s not just a case of sticking to the popular ones. You might well get more engagement from the less used hashtags as there is less competition. It’s good to be creative in these. For example, if you sell shoes and want to stand out, you could try lesser-used hashtags such as #shoesaddicted or #shoesonline. You want to find hashtags that others are using, but too many people using them and you risk disappearing in the noise. It’s a good idea to use a mix of popular and less popular hashtags to widen the reach of your post.

2 – To follow a conversation/subject of interest

The use of a hashtag can help you stay engaged with a specific conversation. For example, if you’re watching the BBC’s The Apprentice, and wish to join others speaking about it while the programme’s going on, then using #TheApprentice will help you to connect. By searching for the hashtag, you’ll also be able to see what others are saying and comment if you wish. The same logic is true for the weekly hashtags such as #charitytuesday – a whole conversation every Tuesday from those working in the charity sector.

There are many different hashtags used throughout social media. Spend some time researching what hashtags work well for you. Then explore what hours or specific events are upcoming that might inspire a flurry of hashtag activity on social media.

3 – To join in a particular conversation at a specified time

This is specifically related to Twitter and encourages conversation around specific topics. There are many Twitter hours that you can take part in. A Twitter hour is a set hour in the week (specified by the organisers of the hour) when people can gather in conversation, and raise awareness of themselves and what they have to say. The hour may have a geographical focus (e.g. #HertsHour, #CardiffHour or #BedsHour) or they may be subject-based (e.g. #UKLegalHour or #MusicHourUK)

By engaging with these hours, you will have opportunities to engage with others, raise your profile and also share your own thoughts to a broader and interested audience.

4 – To join a specific conversation for one particular day

There are many themed days throughout the year, designed to raise awareness and inspire discussion. Notable examples are #internationalwomensday, #worldmentalhealthday and #worldentrepreneursday. These can be used across all the social media platforms. Spend some time researching which days might make the best opportunities for your message. Then create content that joins others in the conversation, and raises your profile.

A word of caution

Be aware of death by hashtags. Like language, these platforms evolve and ‘best practice’ can change over time. However, here are a few simple good practice thoughts. On Twitter 2-3 hashtags is a good guide. Facebook is similar to Twitter. On Instagram, you can use 1-30. A mix between popular hashtags and lesser-used hashtags, to widen your reach.

Just try it

As with all things, just try it. If you’re often posting on social media and consistently not using any hashtags, you’re likely to be losing an opportunity to connect with others. It’s worth trying and experimenting with these are they will improve your reach and connections. Ignoring hashtags entirely is a missed opportunity.

For more information ineffective social media use for small organisations, click here. To read about the 5 most common mistakes seen in social media use, click here.

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