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Let’s go back in time, say 15 years. The “#” symbol was a thing back then, but a rather minor one, used for example for dialing your phone operator or as a board to play a famous game of noughts and crosses. Then, in 2007 Twitter introduced hashtags onto their platform and basically made history! It’s kind of hard to imagine contemporary social media without them. Nowadays basically all channels and platforms more or less implemented hashtags into their structure. You can hardly find an Instagram photo or a Twitter post without them. They serve different purposes – just think of the #tbt “throwback thursday” used for posting your holiday pictures during cold winter months! Or the #IceBucketChallenge, which appeared on videos of people pouring down ice cold water on themselves to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The variety is incredible!
In this article however, I will tackle the question of how and why should businesses use hashtags. There are plenty of benefits from a well-curated hashtag strategy and you should definitely start utilizing their potential in your social media campaign.
Why should I use hashtags?
Hashtags may be a tacky issue. They are a bit of a Marmite thing – there are people who love them a bit too much and there are people who rather despise or ridicule them. The facts are however clear – an Instagram post with at least one hashtag is likely to have 12.6% more engagement than a post with no tags. How can that be?
Hashtags are a great way to get your content found by your audience. Let’s suppose you have a business, where you create beautiful, artisan furniture out of oak. Your social media strategy is so far focused on posting pictures of your unique products. It’s great, but it doesn’t really attract many new customers. Now, one day, you begin adding #woodwork #artisanfurniture to your pictures – suddenly your DM starts filling up with congratulations and orders. Why? Every time someone interested in woodwork or artisan furniture looks up a related hashtag, your products are going to be the ones they see. Of course, a lot of other people will probably use the same hashtags, but if your product stands out, then, with a little help of tagging, your business has a chance of gaining a much bigger audience!
The know-how of hashtags
There are three social media platforms, which are the major players when it comes to hashtag use. These are Twitter (obviously!), Instagram and Facebook. The approach of each of these is a bit different, but it all boils down to a single point – to give users more exposure! I am going to briefly outline the main differences in approaches to using hashtags on these three platforms.
It all started here! The characteristic limitation of 140 signs per post make it obvious that a Twitter post won’t have too many hashtags. And that’s only for the good! Data presented by TrackMaven show that posts with one or two hashtags get much more engagement than posts with three to eight tags. That is why a successful Twitter campaign has to be very hashtag-specific. If you are promoting your business, tag your posts with relevant words, not the ones that are trending at the moment.
Contrary to Twitter, the engagement with an Instagram post rises exponentially with the amount of hashtags you use. The perfect amount of tags is nine, then the engagement rate tends to slightly fall.
Let’s suppose you are a bodybuilder who just started an Instagram account devoted to motivation and promotion of healthy lifestyle. The easiest way to attract followers to your photos would be to tag them with related words – #motivation #bodybuilding #eatclean. These hashtags will catalogue your photo and give you a ready-made potential audience who might be searching just for what you have to offer – they are referred to as the community hashtags. The second type of hashtag used on Instagram is the branded one. Just like Nike has its #justdoit, a bodybuilder can find a word or a phrase linked specifically to his or her business. This would be used to increase the business’s brand identity, characterise its most prominent feature and create a more devoted social media following. The differentiation between a community and brand hashtags is obviously applicable to Facebook and Twitter as well! Instagram is however a good place to experiment with different keywords or phrases, due to a much bigger volume of hashtags one can use before losing engagement.
Facebook has a similar relationship with hashtags as Twitter – the less of them you use and the more focused you are, the better engagement rates you’ll get. Facebook people use hashtags to follow and post about certain causes, events or issues. Hashtag use on Facebook can explode during certain periods of time – for example during an Oscar ceremony or when some social campaign is trending (see: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!). With Facebook, the keywords you are tagging need to be laser-precise or otherwise your posts might be omitted.
A crucial factor while using hashtags is to avoid going on for too long. This refers to both the amount as well as length. Be specific – use keywords related to the industry your business operates in. Data presented by TrackMaven show precisely that less is more and you should focus on your niche instead of trying to cater to everybody. Instagram might be a bit of an exception, with the most engagement at nine hashtags, but still – don’t go crazy! Instead go small and specific!
Hashtags are not exactly a novelty on the social media scene and their use for business promotion is acknowledged. This is exactly why you need to implement them in your business’s social media strategy – you will find yourself going backwards if you fail to keep up!
A few things you’ve learnt from this article:
- Hashtags are a great way to give your business more exposure – they organize all related posts in one space,
- Each social media platform has a different approach to hashtags,
- Generally there are two types of hashtags a business can use: community ones and branded ones,
- Your hashtags should be focused on your niche market – keep them specific and focused so that your audience and potential customers can find you more easily.