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What are Hashtags and Why Should You Use Them?
Hashtags are search words we use on social media sites and are preceded by the # symbol that are searchable online. They have no spaces between words and are not case sensitive. You can add a hashtag at any point in your post and it will become a link to a collection or grouping of posts that share the same hashtag.
For example, here’s a Twitter search on the hashtag #MondayMotivation. This is a popular hashtag for inspirational quotes and messages. On LinkedIn, you can follow hashtags and see all posts that include that hashtag. On Instagram, where hashtags are most prominent, a search on the same hashtag takes you to the Explore page for #MondayMotivation. There you see the top posts that use that hashtag. Hashtags also work on Facebook, but haven’t become as popular as on the other networks, so I’m going to focus on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn today.
Why should you use hashtags? They broaden your reach. A hashtag search shows you all posts grouped together with that hashtag, regardless of whether or not you follow the account. You’ll find new accounts to follow, and others will find you when they might not have otherwise.
What is Hashtag Research?
Hashtag research is the process of determining the best hashtags to use for the content you are posting. It’s a critical part of your social media strategy, as it will affect who your posts are seen by on social media and how you get discovered in search engines.
How to Do Hashtag Research
General Hashtag Research Guidelines
How do you find the best hashtags to use?
Start with accounts you follow that post on similar or related topics. What hashtags are they using? Add those to your list.
You’ll need a list for each social network, as they may have many hashtags in common, but others may vary widely. A hashtag that may be successful for you on LinkedIn may not be on Instagram and vice versa.
Before you start using a hashtag, research it thoroughly so you know exactly how it’s being used.
Baked goods manufacturer Entenmann’s found this out the hard way when they tweeted about eating pastries on the same day in 2011 that Casey Anthony, although widely believed to be guilty, was found not guilty of murder in the death of her daughter. Failing to check the trending hashtags and do the hashtag research resulted in this gaffe.
There are many similar stories from brands. Just search the term hashtag fail for other ways to mess up hashtags on social media. It’s happened to large brands as well as smaller ones, so no one is immune.
As you create your hashtag lists, use a combination of very popular hashtags and less popular ones. The more popular, the more general.
Think of hashtags as keywords. The same types of keywords that you use to be found online. For example, if you run a gardening blog, you might use keywords like growing a garden, vegetable gardening, growing flowers, or numerous others that fit your niche. Remember that long-tail (multiple words and/or phrases) are generally better than single-word keywords, as the competition to rank and be noticed for gardening will be stiff.
For this reason, when you’re doing your hashtag research, look for more specific, multi-word keywords rather than the more general, popular ones. As an example, the #MondayMotivation hashtag has 20,625,844 posts on Instagram. It’s easy for your post to get lost in the midst of 20 million, so, while it’s great to use the most popular hashtags, also choose some that are less popular. At the other extreme, #SmallBizMotivation has only 364 posts, so you’d easily get attention there, but far fewer people probably follow that hashtag.
Let’s break our hashtag research down to the three most important social networks for hashtags:
On Instagram, you want to be on the Explore page for your hashtags. Theoretically you could end up on 30 Explore pages, as that’s the limit for hashtags on Instagram, but that’s improbable. The Explore page is where the posts using that hashtag are found. The top grid of nine posts are the top posts for that hashtag, then below that are the most recent posts using that hashtag. This page is a great place to get discovered by accounts that don’t already follow you, so the Explore page is a goal.
Go to Home and enter a keyword as a hashtag in the Search box.
There’s my hashtag #socialmedia with more than 19 million posts. That’s definitely a popular one, and would be very difficult to get noticed for. The top post on the Explore page for this hashtag has nearly 2200 likes and 44 comments.
Keep scrolling down in the Search box and you’ll find #socialmediastrategist and #socialmediamarketer with less than 200,000 posts. You’ll have a better chance of standing out with a medium-sized hashtag search and it will be more likely that you’ll make the Explore page for that search.
Open a spreadsheet and make a list of at least 50 hashtags for each topic you post about. For example, I have hashtag lists for email marketing, social media, WordPress, writing, and content marketing. Sort your hashtags in order of number of posts. Use five very large, popular hashtags, five very small niche ones, and keep the other 15 in the middle range. When you distribute your hashtags this way, you maximize your chances of appearing in search results for the smaller hashtags. Unless your following is large, it’s unlikely you’ll show up in the most popular hashtag searches.
How many to use: You’ve got 30. Use all 30.
Where to put them: Under your caption, with five lines of periods between the caption and the hashtags if you like. Some users add them to the first comment to keep a cleaner look, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference. As Instagram doesn’t recognize line spacing, add a period for each line you want to space down between your caption and hashtags.
To do hashtag research on Twitter, go to Home and enter your hashtag in the Search box in the upper right corner.
You’ll see other hashtag suggestions here as well. If I click on #socialmedia it takes me to the hashtag search for that term. Across the top you’ll see that you can search the latest tweets with that hashtag, find accounts that use it, photos and associated with it, and the top tweets. Search each one of these options to see what the hashtag is about and find related ones. You won’t see the number of posts associated with your chosen hashtag on Twitter, so you’re on your own for numbers. You can safely assume that single-word hashtags, such as #marketing and #socialmedia are the most popular.
For your Twitter hashtag list, just as with Instagram, use a combination of more popular and and medium-sized hashtags. You can try one large, one medium, and one smaller, more specific term.
If you use Tweetdeck, you can make a column for any hashtag search (see this post for how to do it) and follow that hashtag.
How many to use: You want to limit your hashtags to two or three for Twitter, otherwise you might look spammy.
Where to put them Generally at the end of the tweet, but, because of Twitter’s maximum character count of 280, users will often use a hashtag in the body of the tweet if it naturally appears there.
To research hashtags on LinkedIn, go to Home and enter your hashtag in the Search box. You’ll see suggestions for other hashtags that are related. LinkedIn tells us that our #socialmedia hashtag has more than 19 million posts.
Click on the one you want to explore and you’ll see the hashtag page with a Follow button. That’s how you follow a hashtag on LinkedIn. You’ll see the hashtags you follow in the left column at the bottom. Click on the hashtag to take you to its search page. Here’s the search page for the #socialmedia hashtag. Any post with that hashtag will appear on this page.
How many to use: There is no official limit. I don’t recommend more than five, otherwise the LinkedIn algorithm may mark your post as spam.
Where to put them: At the bottom of the post
Do you use hashtags regularly? I hope you’ll incorporate them into your marketing and social media strategy.
Hashtags help other users find you and they help you find new content to share and new accounts to follow. Broaden your horizon past those you follow and those who follow you.