Social Media Basics: How to Use Hashtags

hashtag symbol

Let’s talk about hashtags. The hash symbol (#) – or pound sign – allows social media content to be tagged into relevant categories. The hashtag first appeared in 2007 on Twitter, and by 2013 some 75% of social users were using them.

But what exactly is a hashtag? Think of it as a label. When you put a #hashtag in the text of your social media post, it gets pulled into the bigger conversation of posts with that same label. So if someone searches for that hashtag, they’ll see all of the posts with that label. Social media algorithms are way more complicated than this, but that’s the basic idea.

To use hashtags effectively, you need to know the different types and understand the best practices of each social media platform, which is what we’re looking at today.

Hashtags Types

  • Topic hashtags: these are the most straightforward. They’re fairly general and relate to what you’re posting about. So if you’re writing a post about using social media for digital marketing to grow you brand, you might use tags like #socialmedia, #socialmediamarketing, #digitalmarketing, #branding, #digital branding, etc.
  • Event/trending hashtags: these relate to a current event, trend, or other timely concepts. Some trending topics happen consistently – like #tbt (throwback Thursday) or #SundayFunday. Others are related to a specific event, conversation, or movement – like #IWD2020.
  • Branded hashtags: these are ones that are specific to your brand. They’re a way of tying content to your organization. Branded hashtags are important for your long-term social outreach. While they don’t help people discover you in the way content or trending tags can, they can ensure that people talking about your brand online get directed back to your profile. These are usually used in one of two ways:
    • Long-term, overall brand tags with the company name or slogan
    • Short-term tags for things like a company contest, campaign, or event 
  • Other hashtags: finally, every once in a while you’ll see at hashtag that’s really long, absurd, or super-specific like #marketingexpertbossladyintheDCarea. No one else is going to use this tag. It’s not part of a bigger conversation. It won’t help you get discovered. If you have the urge to make up a long or quirky hashtag on the spot, know it’s not going to do you any good. Don’t waste Twitter characters on a made-up hashtag.

Best Practices by Platform

When it comes to using all of these different types of hashtags, not all social platforms are the same. These are the best practices for each network per Hootsuite.

  • Twitter: aim for 1-2 hashtags per tweet. Hashtags can also be added into your bio. Tags in your bio don’t help much with people searching for your page, but having your branded tags in your bio is a great way to make sure people can find them and use them.
  • Instagram: aim for 9-15 hashtags per post. You can use them in your posts, bio, or on your Stories. People can also follow hashtags on Instagram which means you need to be extra careful to only use accurate tags related to what you’re posting. If followers flag your post as being wrong for the hashtag they follow it can hurt your account.
  • Facebook: In theory you can use between 1-2, but most users don’t bother with hashtags on Facebook at all. Hashtags on Facebook have very little impact and users tend to find them more distracting than helpful. 
  • LinkedIn: aim for 1-2 per post. You should also take the time to look and see which hashtags have followers on LinkedIn. Since hashtags are newer to the platform, they perform very differently from others in this list. Some tags have really large followings which would benefit you, others have none at all. 
  • Pinterest: keep it under 20 per pin. Seriously, Pinterest is all about hashtags. That’s the main way that pins are organized, and Pinterest functions more like a search engine than social network in a lot of ways, so robust tagging just makes sense.
  • YouTube: between 1-3 in your video descriptions. Using more tags means YouTube won’t know where to categorize your video and will actually hurt your reach instead of helping. You can also use hashtags in your video titles, though it’s not recommended. 

Bottom line: hashtagging is only as good as the strategy your build. You need to research hashtags on each platform you use and keep a running list of relevant tags your brand uses in each category. Taking the time to research and plan your hashtagging is an essential part of your larger social media plan.

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