Just last week, we celebrated the 7th birthday of one of the most important innovations in the (short, but still) history of social media: the hashtag. On August 23, 2008, ordinary Twitter user Chris Messina sent out a tweet that would change history:
With that simple idea, Chris started a chain of events that led to the most pervasive symbol in modern marketing. You can hardly move these days without seeing hashtags driving marketing campaigns, unifying discussion of a live event, bringing together millions of people along a shared interest, or asking them to share their experiences with a brand.
While that’s all easy for a company with a multi-million dollar marketing budget, how do you use a hashtag? And what should it say? The rules of using hashtags are pretty flexible and easy to grasp, so check out this list of #HashtagDosandDonts to get your social media game going.
DO: Use Hashtags Across All Platforms
Hashtags may have originated on Twitter, but these days they’re so ubiquitous that they’re used on practically every social media platform. Imagine hashtags as filters that help distinguish your posts from the rest. For example, if someone searches for posts that include #SmallBusiness:
The search results will include all tweets or posts that include that hashtag. So next time you’re planning your post to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, or Google+, use a hashtag to increase the likelihood your posts are seen.
DON’T: Treat All Platforms the Same
But just because you can use hashtags on each social media platform doesn’t mean you should use them the same way. On Twitter, for example, you should use at most one or two hashtags, especially with only 140 precious characters to spread your message. Facebook doesn’t limit characters, but too many hashtags can clutter your message and confuse followers, so stick to two to four hashtags per post (if any). On Instagram, no one really pays attention to the text beneath each picture. Instagram is all about the picture, so add as many hashtags as you want to attract more viewers. Always try to tailor your message to fit your medium. Learn how others (especially your competitors) are using them, and then learn to do it better.
DO: Use Trending Hashtags
Trending topics are that little list on the side of your Twitter feed, or on the top right of your Facebook page. The “What’s Trending List” compiles the most popular hashtags at the moment, based on the most viral subjects or events occurring online. These can be a great way for you to engage with your followers, since these Trending Topics tend to be what people are already talking about.
Daily hashtags are a great opportunity for easy but meaningful connections with your followers. Tags like #MondayMotivation, #ThrowbackThursday, or #FridshutterstayFreebie are an easy and weekly chance to connect with your followers.
Your social media posts should be a chance for two-way communication between you and your followers. Build relationships with your followers instead of just broadcasting to them.
DON’T: Force It
Not all trending hashtags will be related to what you do. In fact, odds are most of them won’t, and that’s okay. Use trending hashtags in your posts when it’s relevant, original, or valuable to do so. Otherwise, shoehorning your message into a trending topic that’s not related to your business is an easy way to get tuned out. Social media is a game of subtlety: If you push your own agenda too hard, you’ll drive away your audience.
Incorporating hashtags into your social media is often a delicate balancing act between using them enough but not too much. Especially when posting from a business or professional profile, overusing your #hashtags can easily knock your credibility if they’re used wrong. But there’s no better (and easier) way to join a global conversation and make connections, so get to it!