Hashtag Secrets

The Secrets to Making Hashtags More Effective

Sharing is caring

Everybody enjoys learning a good secret. It makes you feel like you have an advantage – a competitive edge over those who aren’t in the know. Of course, marketing is no different. For those enterprises that have been running their own social media marketing efforts, a little whisper in the ear can help – especially when it comes to the sometimes-confusing topic of the hashtag. While hashtags may at first seem like random words with a pound symbol (#) in front, there’s an art and science to their use. We’re going to let you in on some trade secrets that will let you wield the power of the hashtag to benefit your business – as well as tip you off to some potential pitfalls!

What are hashtags, and what can they do for you?

So how did the hashtag come to be part of social media? As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone tells the story, web marketing specialist Chris Messina dropped into Twitter’s offices one fine day in 2007. He suggested using the “pound” or “hash” symbol on landline phones to create groups of related tweets. This would help Twitter users easily create and find groups of related tweets. Soon after, Twitter launched the first hashtag, and changed the social media landscape forever.

Quickly adopted by every other social media platform, the now-ubiquitous hashtag fascinates, baffles and challenges marketers and organizations of all industries and sizes. Basically, a hashtag is a word or keyword phrase preceded by the hash symbol. It works to draw attention to your posts and encourage interaction. Hashtags can be seen as SEO for social media, only instead of boosting your search engine ranking, they boost the visibility of your posts.

A hashtag is spelled out without spaces, symbols or punctuation – although it can include numbers. We recommend using an uppercase letter for each word in the hashtag. This improves readability, as well as prevents any potentially embarrassing, non-family friendly interpretations.

Writing for Hootsuite, Karin Olafson provides a clear perspective. “Think of hashtags as a way to connect social media content to a specific topic, event, theme or conversation. They also make it easier to discover posts around those specific topics, because hashtags aggregate all social media content with that same hashtag.”

As covered in our blog post –“How to Be More Successful on Instagram” – hashtags fall into three main categories.

Community hashtags – These connect like-minded users around a specific subject – such as your business category, industry specialty, special days/events/seasons, daily hashtags (#throwbackthursday), and hashtags incorporating your location (#chowdownorlando).

Branded hashtags – This is a hashtag unique to your business. It can be your company name, tagline or the name of a product or campaign. However, this type is typically more successful for major brands.

Campaign hashtags – This type is used for specific campaigns – such as for a new product launch, special event or partnership. As with branded hashtags, these are more effective if you already enjoy high brand recognition.

Two Key Factors to Making Hashtags Work

Relevance and on-brand messaging are the two essential factors to achieving hashtag success. Your hashtags should be relevant to your line of business, as well as to the target audience members you want to connect with. This includes their interests, concerns, needs and problems that your product or service can solve.

In his article for Later, content marketing strategist Benjamin Chacon writes that the more of a niche category your hashtag addresses, the higher the engagement you’re likely to get. Hashtags that are specific will achieve better results than broad terms, which are not likely to be searched.

“For example, let’s say you’re posting a photo of a French Bulldog. Instead of just tagging #dogstagram (over 15 million posts), you could also tag #frenchie (over 5 million posts) and #squishyfacecrew (over 1.3 million posts) to reach a more targeted audience of people who really love French Bulldogs. This is the best way to get a lot of targeted engagement on your posts!”

To get a good list of hashtags, search those that your competitors are using. Instagram makes this easy. Just start typing hashtags into the Search bar. The results will drop down – including the number of posts each has been used for. Paid subscription research tools are also available, such as RiteTag and Hashtagify – the latter of which allows free basic searches to show a hashtag’s overall and recent popularity.

While you want to target more niche, specific hashtags, Digital Marketing Institute offers this caution. “Don’t try to be too clever or unusual. If you choose a tag that no one is searching for, it won’t benefit your marketing.”

Along this line, if you think you’re going to start a trend with a hashtag of your own creation – otherwise known as a custom hashtag – keep in mind this classic work of satire published by The Onion: 2-Hour Meeting Spent Thinking Up Hashtag Absolutely Nobody On Planet Earth Will Ever Use. Don’t be the real-life version of this company. Custom hashtags can occasionally be successful for major brands, but for small-to-medium-size businesses, there’s no ROI.

Now, a cautionary word about Instagram

As covered in our previous Instagram-specific blog post, the platform has a list of banned hashtags that will immediately get your post flagged and disabled. But don’t assume you can figure them out without referencing the list, as some – like #happythanksgiving – appear to be completely inoffensive. Fortunately, #turkey isn’t on the list.

The hashtag and how NOT to use it

There are many common mistakes in employing hashtags – some more serious than others. Here are the most frequent offenses:

Too-frequent postings of the same hard-sell message post – Those who misuse hashtags often also break other social media rules. For example: repeatedly promoting a product or service several times daily, with the same hashtag(s) – which tends to be a more common offense on Twitter. Remember, some hashtags are built around a community of fans, enthusiasts, etc. They are not likely to appreciate seeing your sales-oriented post pop up with frequency in their feed. In fact, such behavior can give you and/or your business a bad reputation. The goal is to engage people, not bombard them with the equivalent of shouting, “HEY! HEY! HEY!” Hey – I wanted to see some cute photos of French bulldogs, not read your pitch for flea repellent 10 times an hour!

Not engaging with members of the hashtag’s community – If your business uses a hashtag also used by those who are a potential market, and you just keep cranking out posts, you’re missing a big opportunity. Identify influencers and reach out to them. Let them know you’re part of the community, too, and want to help promote its interests and goals – not just your own product, service or project. Comment on their posts, ask relevant questions and share/retweet relevant posts/content of others. Taking to heart the “social” part of social media will help you build brand awareness – and your business!

Jumping on the bandwagon – Almost every blog post about hashtags recommends using trending hashtags. This can be done well when your business – its industry, core values, circumstances, target audience, etc. – is relevant to the trend. But adding a trending hashtag that isn’t won’t attract attention to your social media post. Unless you can find an angle that makes sense, let the trend go on without you.

Tone-deafness – Using popular hashtags dealing with current events or conditions can be a complex matter, and will backfire if readers consider your post insensitive, offensive or otherwise inappropriate. Good intentions may not be interpreted in the way you meant. Before posting, read other posts for their tone, and be sure the hashtag represents the sentiment you assume it does. And never exploit a tragedy, emergency or catastrophic event to promote your business.

Using hashtags on social media

Each social media platform has its own subtle ecosystem and recommended number of posts, which Digital Marketing Institute describes in detail. In brief, here’s the breakdown:

  • Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest – one to two hashtags per post.
  • LinkedIn – one to three hashtags per post.
  • Instagram – 10 or 11 hashtags per post, although the platform allows a total of 30.


The take-home message and our blatant self-promotion

For those with the time and willingness to explore and observe, hashtags can eventually reveal their own secrets. While it is possible to take the DIY approach, the time and resources for a small-to-medium-size business to invest may be too much. Of course, that’s where Virtual Stacks Systems comes in! We provide comprehensive social media marketing services, as well as PPC advertising, website design and redesign, SEO marketing, review management services, social media marketing, video production and much more! Contact us to get started.


Call Us