There is a time and place for everything as they say, and the same goes for hashtags.

As a digital marketer and an avid Instagram user, I have noticed a growing trend on the platform of what I can only describe as hashtag abuse. In my feed, I continually see images with one or two lines of words about the post followed by another 10 lines of #hashtags. That’s 20 or more hashtags per post!

Seeing the stream of hashtags and all their slight variations has got me thinking; Are these actually clever marketers throwing the cast wide in hopes of capturing the long tail audience? Or are they spending precious time trying to be clever with no gain?

What the heck is a hashtag?

Firstly, a little background for those of you who are still trying to grasp the hashtag.

Hashtags are a way of categorising and organising content on social media. There is a lot of content out there, adding # to the beginning of a word or phrase on social media posts makes it searchable. Basically, hashtags make it easier for people to discover content that is relevant to their interests. 

Hashtags were first introduced as a way of grouping topics on Twitter in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the platform adopted them and turned them into hyperlinks. Now hashtags are everywhere, pretty much all of the social platforms make use of them and they’ve even infiltrated conversations offline thanks to the media introducing them into popular culture.

Now for the important stuff.

Why hashtag?

Hashtags allow you to be found. We all know that existing in a vacuum won’t help your brand grow or gain recognition. To achieve success brands need to be seen, they need to be found – using hashtags will help.

Here are some other reasons you should use hashtags in your brand’s social media posts;

  • they increase engagement (by 50% for brands)
  • for building your community
  • to broaden your reach – get your message seen by a wider audience
  • they allow you to connect with users around a common theme
  • to promote an event or promotion that your brand is offering

Love them or hate them, hashtags have become part and parcel of the way we communicate on social media. They play an important role in brand awareness and when used mindfully they can bring great rewards.

How many hashtags?

Hashtags are great and they will help your brand be found. But, overusing hashtags can be detrimental. Using more than the recommended amount for the platform can reduce engagement as the following Twitter stats suggest.

engagement stats for Twitter

Just because you have a 30 hashtag allowance on Instagram doesn’t mean you should use it. Doing so may attract more followers to your brand but they are likely to be fake or scam accounts which have the effect of devaluing your message and brand.

Each platform works differently when it comes to hashtags, 1-2 is best on Twitter while reports show 11 is the magic number for Instagram. Investigate. Find out how hashtags work on the platform you are using, what the benefits of using them will be and the best practice for using them on your given platform – you may decide that you don’t need to use them at all.

You also want to be careful about your words to hashtag ratio, that is the number lines of text you’ve used in your post in relation to the number of hashtags. Too many hashtags will make your post look like spam. Not a good idea.

Plan your hashtags

When you use hashtags on social media, you should be using them strategically. Do some research; find out which hashtags are popular in your industry and which ones your competitors and industry influencers are using. Try a few out and monitor the response to see what works and piques your target audience’s interest.

Not every post needs to include hashtags, the stats show they increase engagement but at the same time you shouldn’t force them. Be aware of the popular, trending hashtags but unless they are relevant to your brand don’t use them.

How has using hashtags influenced your brand awareness? Do you need to change the way you use hashtags? Let me know in the comments below.

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