Hashtags are ONE constant in an ever-changing social media world. So what are they and how can they help you in your online marketing?
Rely on the Ultimate Guide to Hashtags infographic and this blog post, where I demystify the hashtag and everything you ever wanted to know about it but didn’t know to ask. Browse the explanations of each tactic, why it’s important, and what it can do for you.
Remember to share this infographic with your own network, using the #hashtagprimer hashtag.
1. Hashtag is a # symbol used before a word
The hashtag is the pound symbol (#) preceding a word used online, in television, and in print media. For example, the hashtag #BreakingBad identifies the television show and would display on-screen during episodes.
2. Hashtags were created by users on Twitter
Hashtags were invented by Twitter users who were frustrated over the lack of a robust search feature to find tweets based on topics they were interested in. Creating the hashtag made it easier to search Twitter for topical content.
3. Hashtags offer a simple way to organize & search for content
Hashtags provide an excellent way to make your posts easily found by others. For example, #SXSW15 identifies a post about the South by Southwest conference in Austin for 2015, making it easy to find tweets about the event, who’s attending, and more.
4. Twitter turns a hashtag into a hyperlink
Twitter turns each hashtag into a hyperlink that, when clicked, will show all the recent tweets for that hashtag. It’s a great way to see what others are saying about that topic and to find people with common interests.
5. Hashtags are popular with the media and fans
All types of media — online, network, cable, and print — quickly adopted the hashtag and use it encourage fans to tweet about live events and shows. You’ll often see a hashtag at the bottom of the screen when watching your favorite show.
6. Hashtags help to brand your messaging
Hashtags provide an easy to way to brand your content, whether using your own hashtag or one identifying it with a popular trend. Look at how four different brands use variations of the #superbowl hashtag to brand their tweets:
7. Hashtags can provide colorful commentary
Using just the right hashtag can give your message a completely new twist. #awkward, #winning, and #fail add an ironic twist to a tweet, such as “Best hashtag ever for an @NFL press conference #flexball #fail,” when the Gillette Flexball was shown on the backdrop of the Patriots “deflate-gate” press conference:
8. Use local hashtags
Using a local hashtag for your city makes it easy for people to identify where you’re located, and easy to find you in search results. Using a hashtag like #ATL, #NYC, #LA, #CHI, and others immediately give your tweet its own “geolocator.”
Where to Use Hashtags
9. Twitter is the king of hashtags, especially #FF FollowFriday
Twitter is the dominant network for using hashtags. It’s where the hashtag was born, raised, and continues to thrive. Twitter etiquette is to use one, two, or at most three hashtags. Any more than that is #overkill.
10. Facebook started recognizing hashtags in 2014
Facebook jumped on the hashtag bandwagon in 2014, and now allows its users to search using hashtags. Similar to Twitter, the etiquette here is to use one to three hashtags at the end of a post. More than that is seen as spamming your fans. Note: In the past, Google has shown Facebook hashtagged content in its search results, as shown in the image below. This screen shot is from 2014, and as of 2015, they have discontinued it; but with Google, you never know if it will pop up again:
11. Instagram users make serious use of multiple hashtags
If hashtags originated on Twitter, Instagram users win the award for overuse of them. It’s not unusual to see Instagram posts with up to 25-30 hashtags, making the image easily found when people search. I don’t recommend using that many: 3-5 well-researched hashtags for your topic are certainly #enough.
12. Google automatically assigns hashtags to your posts based on your content
Google+ is unique from every other social network for this one reason: it assigns your posts hashtags based on the content in them. You can still use hashtags of your own in the post, but if you don’t, Google+ tries its best to give your post at least one hashtag based on the words you used in the post.
13. Pinterest unofficially recognizes hashtags
Pinterest doesn’t natively use hashtags, but many people use multiple hashtags at the end of their pin description as a way to get found in search. Why not? It can’t hurt.
14. Google displays the results of a hashtag used in search
If you search Google using a hashtag, it returns results from social networks and website/blog content.
15. Tumblr users tag their content using hashtags
Tumblr bloggers use hashtags to identify their content, make it easily found in search, and add it to what Tumblr calls a “tag channel.” According to Pete Cashmore of Mashable, “Tumblr is getting into the real-time search game, allowing users to contribute to a tag channel and find others who share their interests. It’s a move that makes Tumblr more public: in its early days it was a fairly closed community.”
How to Use Hashtags
16. Don’t use spaces in hashtags
If your hashtag is more than one word or a phrase, omit the spaces between the words, as shown below in #17.
17. #socialmedia not #social media
If you want to use the hashtag for social media, the correct usage is #socialmedia, not #social media. You can also use the abbreviation #sm instead. However, be sure to research if you’re using the correct abbreviation. Many hashtags use the same acronym, and you want to be directing people to the right content.
18. Use hashtags at the end of a message
While a hashtag helps to identify your content, it isn’t critical to conveying your message, so use it at the end of your message. You don’t want to force people to wade through multiple hashtags to get to the heart of your tweet or post.
19. Abbreviate long phrases
Hashtags are especially helpful on Twitter and Instagram where you have limited space, so it makes sense to abbreviate your hashtag if it’s a long phrase.
20. #tbt for Throwback Thursday and #FF for Follow Friday
Throwback Thursday, or #tbt, is a social media tradition of posting a photo from a previous era (think 70’s bell bottoms or the 80’s ripped t-shirts). Follow Friday, or #FF, is a Twitter tradition of listing people whom you recommend others follow for their great tweets.
21. Create your own hashtags
There’s no rule about who creates or owns a hashtag (even though Coca-Cola is trying to trademark a couple), so feel free to brand your business by creating your own hashtag.
22. Audi created #WantAnR8
A great example of not only creating your own hashtag but building a buzz around product demand is Audi’s #WantAnR8 campaign. Audi, its dealers, owners, and wannabe owners all use the hashtag:
23. Use at events #SXSW15
A widely adopted use of hashtags is at events: conferences, sporting events, and concerts. South by Southwest uses the hashtag #SXSW15, abbreviated with the current year’s event. Simply use the hashtag in your post making it easy for others attending or shadowing the event to follow what’s happening.
24. Learn popular hashtags
It’s important that you understand the most popular hashtags in your industry. Every field from accounting to consumer goods to schools and universities use hashtags to brand their messages. The best way to learn which hashtags are appropriate for your market is to follow industry leaders on social media and observe how they use them, and which hashtags appear frequently.
Examples of Innovative Hashtags
25. #RT gives a shout out on Twitter as a retweet
One of the most common hashtags is #RT on Twitter, which is a retweet of someone’s tweet you liked. It’s considered a recommendation of their post, and some of the most retweeted content are funny and ironic tweets.
26. #NYC, #ATL, #austin all identify cities in a tweet
Use a local hashtag to identify yourself or your brand as being located in a city and proud of it!
27. Fashionistas use #ootd to show off their “outfit of the day”
Beauty and fashion bloggers use the #ootd hashtag to share their outfit of the day. It’s a great way for readers to find fashion inspiration, and the bloggers gain new followers.
28. #socialmedia, #entrepreneur
Hashtags identifying your industry are a great way to give context to a post. #socialmedia and #entrepreneur are just two of the hundreds of hashtags that identify yourself and your content as relevant to your field.
29. Television encourages viewer engagement for #breakingbad, #idol, #xfactor
Television shows commonly display their hashtag on screen during an episode, encouraging viewers to live tweet about the show. Networks often generate more buzz by making the show’s stars available afterward to chat with viewers on twitter.
30. Recommend colleagues with Follow Friday #FF on Twitter
A Twitter tradition is to recommend new followers, colleagues, and those you admire by tagging them with the Follow Friday hashtag. The tweet “#FF @MarketingMel @PattyFarmer @EbonyLove @EkaterinaWalter awesome #interviews” would recommend those entrepreneurs as people I’ve interviewed and recommend.
31. Hashtags help raise awareness and funding for #curechildhoodcancer
Hashtags aren’t limited to for-profit brands. Causes like #curechildhoodcancer have run highly successful fundraising campaigns using a branded hashtag. One of the most successful non-profit campaigns was the #icebucketchallenge for ALS in 2014.
32. Charlie Sheen’s #winning is best known, most ironic hashtag #fail
Probably the most ironic, and well-known hashtag is #winning, used by Charlie Sheen during his personal meltdown. What #hashtag do you want your brand to be known for?
Branding Your Business with Hashtags
33. Southwest paints #bagsflyfree on their airplanes
Southwest is famous for not charging travelers for checking a bag, so they display the #bagsflyfree hashtag in big bold letters ON their planes. Where better to advertise than at the airport to travelers who DID pay to check their luggage?
34. Lancome encouraged celebrated their clients with #BareSelfie
While Dove is famous for using real women in their television and print ads, Lancome brilliantly encouraged women to take a selfie without makeup and tag it #BareSelfie, as part of a marketing campaign for a new serum. It generated 500 photos with the hashtag, and website sales were converting at four percent.
35. Lexus teamed with Instagrammers with #LexusInstaFilm
Lexus collaborated with over 200 Instagrammers to generate a stop motion film using Instagram photos. Tagged with #LexusInstaFilm, the campaign generated 1,000 new followers on the social network.
36. Coke so successful with #smilewithacoke they’ve applied for a trademark
Generations fondly remember commercials & jingles singing Have a Coke and a smile, and the newest version for the 21st century is #smilewithacoke. Now they’re applying for a trademark to protect it.
37. LiquidWeb hosting offers helpful #lwtips on Twitter
One of the best ways to connect with potential customers is by being helpful, and LiquidWeb hosting does that on Twitter by offering #lwtips
38. LinkedIn encouraged users to predict what the year would bring #BigIdeas2015
LinkedIn tapped into the “new year, new predictions” habit of many bloggers and thought leaders with their #BigIdeas2015 hashtag. They started the post series with big names like Richard Branson, then encouraged their users to write their own LinkedIn posts using the hashtag:
39. Dell computers sets up #DellLounge at industry trade shows
At its major trade shows, Dell Computers sets up an elaborate lounge for people to stop by, see their latest innovations, and take photos of themselves tagged #DellLounge. They team up with movie studios to show their movies on Dell computers, with charities who need exposure, and more, all in the lounge. They make #DellLounge a social destination at trade shows. Their marketing strategy is brilliant, resulting in trade show attendees generating massive buzz for Dell.
40. Who doesn’t love to share about a Wendy’s #Frosty?
Do customers love your products and share them with their friends? Then create a hashtag for them! Wendy’s uses the #Frosty hashtag on Twitter to announce the proceeds of coupon books going to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption:
41. Use relevant hashtags
Stick to hashtags that are topical to your content. Don’t resort to “hashtag spam” by using hashtags that are popular but have nothing to do with your message.
42. Twitter etiquette allows one to three hashtags
Since a tweet is a brief 140 characters, limit your hashtags to only those most relevant to your content: from one to three hashtags.
43. Instagram reigns with up to 30 hashtags
Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per image (yes, really). Why you need that many is frankly beyond me, unless you’re trying to over-promote yourself. It’s not unusual to see Instagram images with 10 – 20 hashtags.
44. Use hashtags at the end of your message
The most important element of your message is the content, whether text or visual. So don’t force people to wade through your sea of hashtags to get to the good stuff — because they likely won’t.
45. Keep hashtags short
As much as I would love to use my brand name in a hashtag, #socialmediaonlineclasses.com is just too long. So I stick to #sm or #socialmedia. Some Instagrammers use long hashtags like #curlyhairdontcare, but they’re often tagging personal photos instead of brand images.
46. Use them to brand your content
No matter what social network you’re using, you can use hashtags to brand your content. I’m using #hashtagprimer for this post, and LinkedIn used #BigIdeas2015 for their post series.
47. Use hashtags to brand your event
Event marketing routinely takes advantage of a hashtag to promote the event, the people speaking & attending, as well as the great images and takeaways attendees love to share. Make sure that your guests know the appropriate hashtag to use at the event by announcing it at the beginning of each session.
48. Use hashtags to brand contests and run them across multiple platforms
YesToCarrots ran a great promotion called #YesToColor, and announced it via email. I received this email from them asking customers who had purchased from their online store to enter the contest and use the hashtag #YesToColor. Notice they did not specify which social network or online platform to use. It didn’t matter. They could search for the hashtag using Google, HootSuite, SproutSocial, or other social media marketing management tools to find all the entrants and the buzz they generated:
Search Using Hashtags
49. Makes content easy to find
Want to find the latest entries in Jimmy Fallon’s hashtag of the week? Search Twitter for it or click on the hashtag from Twitter to see the entries. Here are the tweets for #WhyImSingle (the hashtag for Valentine’s Day):
50. Use hashtags in search engines
Notice I searched Google for the #WhyImSingle hashtag? It shows me the results not just on Twitter, but across the web from sources like HuffingtonPost, YouTube, Tumblr and more. Doing a hashtag search from a search engine doesn’t limit you to one particular social network, so it’s great for finding hashtags across platforms.
51. Search for content within a social network using a hashtag
Looking for a hashtagged post within a social network? Most let you search within the platform for hashtags. The results will vary by network and their privacy policies. For example, Facebook will return hashtagged content from people you’re friends with and public pages. You won’t see hashtagged content from people you aren’t friends with.
52. Hashtags are clickable in almost every major social network
Just as I clicked on #whyImsingle in Twitter, you can do the same to find inspiration for #weddingbouquets in Pinterest. In fact, you can click on a hashtag from almost every social network and it will display posts using it:
53. Find messages across online channels
Searching for a hashtag from a search engine returns results from multiple online channels, not just social networks, as shown in #49 and #50.
54. Motivated users find you
Hashtags make it dead simple for people looking for your brand or content to find you. Be sure to clearly announce which hashtags you’re using and people will find a path to your brand.
55. Great for contest entries
Running a contest but don’t want to limit it to just a single social network? No problem. Tell contest entrants to tag their #entry using your hashtag, and you can search for them in Google, Bing, Hootsuite, or other social media management tool. You’ll get more buzz and more entries.
56. Use in email & chat to make topics easier to find
While you don’t get any marketing buzz from this tactic, some people do use hashtags for their own purposes in email and chat. Using a hashtag #Introduction in the subject line of an email makes it much easier to find later than searching for “introduction” which will likely return too many results.
Marketing Using Hashtags
57. Brand your contests using a hashtag
Follow the excellent example from YesToCarrots in tactic #48: brand your contest using a unique hashtag. It immediately makes the contest buzzworthy. They were able to run the contest across multiple social networks, allowing customers to post where it was easy for them, all using the same hashtag.
58. Hashtags provide cohesive cross-platform messaging
Every social network has its own etiquette and rules: Twitter is limited to 140 characters while there’s almost no limit for Facebook. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags while Twitter discourages more than three. By using a single hashtag for your marketing campaign, you can follow those guidelines and still successfully brand your message.
59. Use in visual content: images, video
Smart business owners use hashtags even in their visual content, like images and video (notice #hashtagprimer on the infographic on this blog post?). While it’s not searchable or SEO-worthy, it does provide a cohesive marketing message, and educates your audience on the proper hashtag to use when mentioning your brand on social media.
60. Let people tell their stories
The best writing & marketing tells just enough to get people motivated to tell their own stories. Fiction authors know this, and often leave out important details in a story to let readers form their own stories and meaning. Do the same with your marketing: people had diverse reasons for #IWantAnR8, but the sentiment was the same. Why they wanted one was the power of that marketing campaign (tactic #22).
61. Domino’s #LetsDoLunch offered a discount for all customers
Domino’s UK ran a savvy hashtag promotion: for every customer who tweeted #LetsDoLunch within a specific timeframe, they took one pence off the price of a pizza. The resulting price went from £15.99 to £7.74 ($24.56 to 11.89), and everyone else ordering during that time got the discount too (including people who didn’t tweet). The key to success was a group effort and a sizable resulting discount.
62. Know your reputation: #McDStories
Before you run a hashtag promotion, be clear on what your brand reputation is. If you have too many negative stories for customers to tell, don’t encourage them. McDonalds asked people to share their #McDStories on Twitter, and the result was horror stories of disgusting food and terrible service. What they had hoped to be a successful hashtag promotion turned into a bashtag fest.
63. Use on SWAG giveaways
If your business gives away great SWAG, brand the items with a hashtag, motivating the lucky recipients to thank you publicly on social media. You’ll likely see lots of photos and happy people with your giveaways.
64. Identify your brand as local
Know the phrase, “all politics is local?” The same can be said for business: “all business is local.” Take advantage of your brick-and-mortar location by identifying your brand as local using a hashtag. If you’re traveling on business or doing a promotional tour, definitely use the hashtags for the cities you’ll be visiting.