What the Heck is a Hashtag?

While #hashtags are far from being new, they still remain a mystery to many people out there – and using them correctly seems to be a challenge for many as well. Hashtags were first introduced by Twitter back in 2007. Chris Messina is credited with coming up with the idea. Since then, the idea has grown exponentially and is now used across most social media platforms.

So lets briefly go over some of the ins and outs of hashtags – what they are, a couple of guidelines to using them, and what platforms they work best on.

What is that pound sign doing in our post?

(No, seriously… We’ve been asked this question before.) Now, while most people actually know that the pound sign before a word is called a hashtag, there are many out there who do not fully understand why they are important. A #hashtag is used on several social media platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, just to name some of the major ones) that connects people with common interests and ideas.

Lets look at the different types of hashtags:

Trending Hashtags (#Loadshedding)

These are hashtags that are currently popular for one reason or another. These are usually centered around a current event or topic that big in the media or events that are happening.

Cutsie Hashtags (#TheseAreJustForFunAndRarelyFunctional)

These are almost poking fun at hashtags. They are just a long string of words that more than likely, no one else is going to use as a hashtag, which defeats the purpose of a hashtag.

Event Hashtags (#MTVMAMA)

These are hashtags used by certain events so that people can chat or post about the event as it’s happening. This keeps everyone in on the conversation.

Brand Campaign Hashtags (#UpYourDance)

Brands will a lot of times come up with hashtags as a part of a marketing campaign to get their fans in on the conversation. This has been effective in the past, as it allows people to interact with the brand instead of just hearing the message. Be careful though! Hashtags can backfire!

General Hashtags (#Hashtag)

These are hashtags that a lot of people use, not for anyone specific purpose, that can connect you, sometimes with similar topics, and sometimes with a whole heap of other stuff. These can sometimes be effective if you have a very general message, but if you’re really trying to target a specific topic or group, they can easily get lost out in the world of hashtags.

So why would you use hashtags?

It’s all about increasing engagement and making your content easily searchable. When you include hashtags in your content, you become part of a bigger conversation happening on social media. But most importantly, it means that your posts become visible when someone searches that topic or conversation with a hashtag search.

Using hashtags can lead to greater engagement. And it can help boost your brand’s social media engagement through likes, shares, comments, and new followers. It’s easy, it’s free and it makes you look cool.

What platforms use Hashtags?

These include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterst, Instagram and LinkedIn. Now, are they as effective across all platforms? No. Should they be used the same across all platforms? No. Let us explain…

1.Twitter

The original keeper of the #hashtag. Hashtags are very effective on Twitter. However, there is such a thing as going overboard. Try to limit our posts to 2-3 hashtags per post and while they’re exceptions to every rule, it’s a good standard to go off of.

Otherwise you get a #post that ends up #looking like -

#this #cool #awesome #notsomuch #isthisfunorwhat #okaythishasgottostop

2.Facebook

Facebook tried implementing hashtags a while back. It was a #fail. Some people use hashtags on Facebook. Because of the privacy policies of Facebook, they don’t work quite like they do across other platforms. But if you’re wondering if hashtags still have a place on Facebook and whether or not they still work, the answer is a definite “yes.” Facebook hashtags have a unique function and brands need to take special care when using them.

3.Pinterest

You can use hashtags on Pinterst, in fact many do, but they don’t quite make or break the network like to do with some of the other platforms out there. Because you can search all types of terms and find related topics without having to use the hashtag, it’s not quite as important. But not irrelevant, don’t get us wrong! It certainly has its place!

4.Instagram

Twitter created the hashtag, but Instagram really implemented it well. We’ve found that the hashtag has a whole separate life on Instagram. The rule of keeping it down to 2-3 hashtags per post goes right out the window for Instagram. We believe this to be due to the fact that the images speak for themselves and the hashtags are more of a way to share the images rather than a form of communication. They really make the social network what it is. You can hashtag almost anything to find images with similar subjects in them.

5.LinkdIn

Hashtags on LinkedIn work in a similar way to Twitter and Instagram – to categorise content. Hashtags help users find content on a specific topic. And, if you add hashtags to your content, they’ll help you get discovered by other users, including those not connected to you. What's more, you can follow hashtags on LinkedIn, meaning that posts containing your chosen ones will appear on your feed. From a marketing perspective, that’s the winner – making your LinkedIn content available to a broader audience.

So, there you have it!

Some of the ins and outs of the #hashtag and how it’s used.

We hope this has helped with your #HashtagMystery and that you can now use the #hashtag more effectively!