Number Sign, Pound Key, or Tic-Tac-Toe
You can always tell when someone doesn't understand the use of a hashtag. They're either spamming their post with thousands of unrelated catchphrases or using them in face-to-face conversations to impress their grand children. "Hashtag blessed kiddo".
The symbol that looks like an empty game of tic-tac-toe is a core ingredient of social media. The hashtag is like adding salt to a dish. Some add too much. Some enjoy theirs bland. But when used right, it brings out the flavours in your post.
With the hashtag being around for over 10 years, you would think that people have become sous-chef hashtag-ers. Right? Well, whether you're making 5-Star meals or last minute macaroni & cheese, here are the basics.
It seems like we've been thrown into this vast world of social media with no instructions on how to use a hashtag. It simply existed. Leaving us to figure out how to construct a proper hashtag without the IKEA assembly instructions.
Before studying Advertising, I was unaware of what the hashtag's purpose was. Was the hashtag another whacky trend the cool kids were using? Was it a way for the government to brainwash us? Was it a coded way to communicate with aliens?
I feel like a lot of us don't understand why we use the hashtag. Without that understanding, we guess on how to use it. As a result of that, a lot of us use it incorrectly.
So in its simplest form, what is a hashtag?
At a hashtag's core, it's a way for you to find other people's posts. If you search '#Coffee', you're going to find posts about coffee. The hashtag allows consumers to connect with others in areas they're interested in.
In other words, the hashtag has become a way of expressing the idea of a post in a few words for the consumer. Think of it as a dictionary for your post. It defines what your post is talking about.
For example, if your post is describing how you were ticketed for J-walking, you're going to use a hashtag that describes how you felt about the situation.
#JustMyLuck, #ArrestedDevelopment, #CanadasMostWanted etc.
Where do brands fit in all this? A brands goal is to make themselves and their posts more visible through hashtags. For brands, the hashtag is a magnify glass for their post. The key is to understand what your potential consumers are using in their search. But we'll dig into that later.
Unfortunately over the years, the hashtag has lost its appeal. What used to be a fun and quirky tool has now become an overused annoyance. But why? For a tool that helps you connect with others, why are hashtags being used less and less?
Are hashtags dead? Or are we simply using them incorrectly?
When I ask, are hashtags dead, I'm not alluding to their wake, but instead, that they've become irrelevant.
Looking back on my previous Transpera blog on digital trends, I mentioned the importance of being in touch with the day-to-day trends and how they affect the way consumers post and interact on social media.
Unfortunately, neglecting hashtags has become a trend for consumers.
I think what made hashtags exciting to begin with was it was the "cool" thing to do. It was something new, a lot of mystery behind it. But now, they've been perceived as being sent to the Island of Misfit Trends.
So, are hashtags dead? Yes and no.
I believe that the use of hashtags hasn't changed but instead, how they're being used has changed. The idea of basic hashtags (i.e. #fun #cool) has become irrelevant and ineffective. Hashtags have evolved to a place where the words are carefully chosen and less gung-ho.
For consumers, they have less and less of a reason to use hashtags. They're no longer trendy and they appear as tacky. I believe it's become the brands job to give the consumer a reason to use the hashtag.
Remind your consumer that the hashtag is what makes you feel apart of something. In a sense, the hashtag is the password you need to enter a secret club. They allow you to stay connected with business circles, relevant topics, trends, events, contests etc.
So, are hashtags dead? I don't believe so. They're still alive and well but for brands, we need to be intentional with how to use them. Here are a few tips on how to use hashtags effectively.
I wouldn't call myself an SEO-expert but over these past few months, I've learn the importance of using the right words when it comes to online marketing. It is understanding that consumers are searching with specific words.
Hashtags are no exception.
The words you use in your hashtag are vital. One error can render your post useless. Whether that's a spelling error or a hashtag that's irrelevant to your post, you need to show your consumer you know what you're talking about.
When you're figuring out what hashtag to use, ask yourself these questions:
1. What or who am I promoting?
2. Who am I reaching?
3. What words are my consumers searching?
It's so important to do your research before doing anything on social media. This helps with understanding your consumers a little bit more as well as gives each hashtag a purpose. Each hashtag needs to define your post.
Plus, there are plenty of tools to show you what consumers are hashtagging. These tools show statistics on popularity, related hashtags, examples of people using them etc. Two reliable hashtag tools we recommend are Hashtagify and Hashatit.
The Four Social Media Horsemen
Bear in mind, we're not having a social media apocalypse any time soon. I couldn't think of a clever title representing four entities.
When thinking about the four major social media platforms, using hashtags may turn out different for each platform. Each one has a different personality. It's important to understand what each platform is used for and tailor those hashtags towards those uses.
The social, social networker. The location for posting pictures of family get-togethers and connecting with out-of-reach loved ones. Facebook is the platform for the consumer to stay connected to people they care about.
In terms of hashtags, Facebook was late to the party. With hashtags being introduced back in 2007, Facebook only adapted to this trend in 2013. Apparently, before Facebook even started utilizing hashtags, people were using them on their site regardless if they worked or not. (
Even though hashtags are not as effective on Facebook as compared to the other big three, it's still important to implement them in your posts. Any form of promoting your posts, big or small, should be utilized.
When it comes to using hashtags on Facebook, think about using words that focus on emotion in a broader sense. If you're a dentist, for example, you're going to create something like #FamilyDentist or #DentalCare.
It's all about a creating a hashtag that connects with your post, your consumer and the platform. In this case, Facebook is more of a connecting-based platform. Focus on words that create an emotional connection.
The wordy know-it-all. The location for writing out frustrations and hopping on hype-trains. Twitter is the platform for the consumer to stay connected with current trends and express themselves through 280 characters.
This should be the easiest platform to create hashtags on. Since Twitter is the birthplace of the hashtag, people have been using them since 2007. Arguably the most popular place to utilize hashtags.
But with that being said, you still want to be careful with what words you use. When using Twitter hashtags, try and focus on words that either best describe your post or trendy topics. Twitter has its own hashtag trending page, which can be a huge asset when promoting your posts.
The trigger-happy picture poster. The location where you post pictures and like topics that revolve around your lifestyle. Instagram is the platform for the consumer to stay connected with pop-culture and post about their day-to-day life.
When posting hashtags on Instagram, think about using words that best describe pictures. What most people on Instagram are searching for are pictures or videos that relate to their lifestyle.
The all-business businessperson. The location where you post and like topics that connect to your job industry. LinkedIn is the platform for the consumer to stay connected to colleagues and keep in touch with the business world.
LinkedIn is a big platform but different from the other 3. It's a place where all sorts of business enthusiasts get together to share triumphs, tips, job opportunities etc.
Use hashtag words that focus on business. This is the best place for you to connect with other people in your industry. Think about what words people use in your industry.
Hashtag Over Usage
Over-saturating your post with hashtags shows the consumer you don't know what you're doing. By using an absurd amount of hashtags in your post, the consumer sees you as a brand that's desperate or trying too hard.
I recommend using around 3 hashtags when posting on social media. This amount gives the leeway to be creative while not drawing away attention from your post with thousands of words describing an apple.
Hashtags will be around forever, relevant or not. They're what keep people connected to what they care about. Anyone can create a hashtag but it's easier said than done. For you to do it right, it's all about being intentional and understanding the reasoning behind the hashtag and the platform.