How To Use Hashtags

The Simple Guide To Hashtags On Social Media

What is a hashtag and how does it work?

Nowadays hashtags are everywhere. In TV ads, on bumper stickers and event flyers. We are surrounded by this mysterious sign even in the so-called real world. So what is it? What does it mean?
A hashtag is simply put just a string of letters and/or numbers used on social media. What makes them so special is what we use them for. Hashtags connect posts dealing with the same topic. If you want to get heard online, using hashtags is the way to do it. Hashtags work on different platforms, for example Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and Flickr.

Who Invented the hashtag?

Hashtags emerged on Twitter. A user suggested the system in one simple tweet on August 23, 2007. The tweet read: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp ( [msg]?” Chris Messina later even pitched his idea to Twitter but without success as his idea was deemed as “too nerdy”.

Messina has a strong technical background. He was familiar with the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) where the pound signs were used to create different channels for different topical discussions and draw his inspiration from this. However the hashtag quickly found its audience on Twitter. Not just nerds embraced it but everyone. The breakthrough came when Messina asked one of the persons covering the #SanDiegoFire to use the hashtag in 2007 and it spread like wildfire. A year later the Republican party created the hashtag #DontGo for their campaign in the run-up to the US election 2008 and Barack Obama used #AskObama for a Q&A on Twitter in the same year. Finally in 2009 Twitter reacted and decided to hyperlink hashtags so they lead to the respective search results page. Hashtags became essential to the platform and its users. The usage skyrocketed.

Why should I use Hashtags?

Hashtags can be an important means to master on social media. It’s not just that they can genuinely help you to reach more followers, but they act as a link between users and topics. For example they come in incredibly handy when you want to find out what people think about the current news. Traffic updates are also an area where hashtags have proven to be valuable as they bring the newest updates to traffic jams and accidents together.

How to use hashtags

Par defintion a hashtag is simply a word or a number with a number sign (or hash in British English) # in front. The # is now also known as the hashtag sign. If you are a Mac user you just press the # key left to the return or enter key on your keyboard. If you’re a Windows user you can find the hashtag sign on the key of number three and you just have to press shift and 3. Hashtag examples could be: #Applepie, #DonaldTrump or #123Conference.

However to understand how amazing this is and why we love hashtags you need to understand how they work. The hashtag connects all voices to one topic. So if you use it correctly by putting the hash in front of a row of letters or numbers (no signs please!) it will pop up when someone searches for the term along with all the other tweets marked with the respective hashtag.

Hashtag best practices

Stay relevant. No matter on which platform you post, don’t just use a hashtag because it’s popular or trending. Use hashtags relevant to your topic. Believe us, people don’t want to find pictures of doughnuts when they search for #CleanEating on Instagram.

Also if possible, try to use short hashtags. Not that 140 signs leave much space on Twitter, but it’s easier to understand the hashtag if it’s not taking up more than two lines of your post.

Another point you should consider if you want others to understand the hashtags you use is capitalization. To give you a little hint: #Likeyouusedto looks a lot more confusing than #LikeYouUsedTo.

For best success, don’t try coming up with your own hashtag. Just look what others use who post similar content to yours. Browse their posts and get inspired or look to what is trending.

Hashtag mistakes

First of all, it’s important to note that hashtags can NOT include special characters. Only letters and numbers can be included in the hashtag. If you use a sign in between the hashtag will be cut off at that point. So #7/11 (it would be #7) does not work but #my711 does.

Another no-go are spaces. Like signs spaces can’t be included in hashtags and the hashtag will end when you press the space key. Instead of using spaces to distinguish different words many people use capitalization instead, as explained above.

Many Twitter users will also discover the problem of too long hashtags. Try to think of a short and distinctive hashtag and do not use whole sentences. A hashtag is supposed to be a keyword or short abbreviation, not a novel.

Luckily, learning ‘how to hashtag’ isn’t all that hard. First of all it is important to note, that hashtags work on different platforms. You might find that some things work on one social media network but not on the other. As hashtags work on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest and Tumblr there is a lot for you to consider when you try hashtags on a new platform.

Where can I use hashtags?

Hashtags on Twitter

Hashtags originated on Twitter in 2007. You can easily incorporate one or more in your tweet by putting the hash sign in front of one letter or number combination. You can either just incorporate it in your sentence, put the hashtags at the beginning, or more commonly at the end of your tweet.

The “Trending Topics” section is an essential feature on Twitter. You can access it easily by opening your Twitter feed and scrolling down a bit. On the left hand side just under your profile description you can find the topics that are currently trending. You can decide which country's or city's trends you want to access or you can choose to get tailored trends based on your activity on Twitter. 10 trending topics are displayed in the small white box and each comes with information (e.g. “trending for 4 hours now”, “just started trending” or “21.44K Tweets”).

Hashtags on Twitter are clickable, meaning that if you click on one you get taken to an overview of tweets using the respective hashtag. Tweets that use the word but don't have the number sign in front of it are excluded from this page. On the page you can choose whether you want to only see the “Top Tweets” or choose the “Live” display. You can also look at “News”, “Photos” or “Videos” tagged with the respective hashtag. There is also the option to restrict your search to a certain time period or tweets from certain countries.

There are different types of hashtags on Twitter. First of all there are special hashtags for events or online discussions like #EURO2016, #WomanSummit or #bfcedu. Second of all there are certain web slang hashtags that the internet has agreed on. These are hashtags like #MotivationMonday, #TBT and #SMH. Thirdly, there are promotional hashtags used by brands, for example #PinkBeetle for a new car model, #MattDamonGetsUNREAL for a candy ad with a high profile supporter and #SpidermanPS4 for a new console game. These hashtags often get “promoted” which means that the brand pays Twitter to list the respective hashtag on top of their “Trending Topics” section.

What's special on Twitter is that some hashtags come with a miniature symbol or emoji. These come often with big events like #AmericaCup or #YogaDay or promoted hashtags.

Hashtags on Instagram

On the photo sharing platform Instagram you can use hashtags in the captions of your pictures. You cannot use them in your profile description. When you have a public account and use a hashtag, your post will be displayed on the respective hashtag page and it will be shown to others who are interested in similar topics.

On Instagram you can significantly expand your reach by using hashtags. The more specific the hashtag, the more specific and actually interested is the audience you get. If you click on a hashtag you get to the overview page where you can see all posts marked with the respective tag. On the top you see the 9 top posts and below you can scroll to the most recent ones.

If you want to add hashtags to an already published post, you can edit the caption or add the hashtags in a comment. It should be noted that you can only add hashtags to your own photo though. Hashtags are very common on Instagram and people often use plenty in their captions. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post.Your photo won't be posted if you use more and the same goes for comments. Studies show that posts with 11 - 15 hashtags work best.

Hashtags on Facebook

In June 2013 Facebook finally decided to make hashtags available on their platform. They wanted to enable users to search for specific content on the social network. Hashtags from Instagram are now imported as well, so if you share your Instagram post on Facebook the hashtags you used on Instagram will work on Facebook as well. Facebook stated that a lot of users were already using hashtags and therefore it was a logical next step for the business.

In contrast to Twitter, where your tweet with the according hashtag is shared with everyone, on Facebook you can only find the posts shared as public or shared by your friends. This means that you will get significantly less results if you search for or click on a hashtag. If you search for a hashtag the search suggestions show you whether it's a popular search term and how many entries there are. The service also suggests correct spelling. If you click on the hashtag in a post, you get to the hashtag feed, this is an overview of all the posts shared by your friends or as public that are tagged with the respective hashtag.

However many critics argue that Facebook introduced the hashtag far too late, as the service has not been very well-received by Facebook users. Only a minority of the users makes use of hashtags on Facebook today.

Hashtags on Google+

You can also use hashtags on Google+. The service even offers a dropdown menu that unfolds when you start typing a hashtag and suggests popular ones. If you use hashtags in your posts on Google+ they will be displayed additionally in the top right corner of your post. If you decide not to use hashtags however, Google+ will identify the keywords in your post and insert those in the top right corner as hashtags. It even converts words from linked articles to hashtags.

You can click on those hashtags and Google+ will reveal a slideshow of different posts marked with the respective hashtag. You can also search for hashtags and click on hashtags in posts. When searching for a hashtag you will also be shown a list of up to 20 related hashtags.

Hashtags on Pinterest

On Pinterest hashtags can only be used in the caption of a pin and not in the about section or in board titles. When you click on a hashtag, you get taken to the page of said hashtag and shown all photos that include the hashtag in their captions.

If you want to search for a hashtag, it's important to note, that you cannot actually search for a hashtag on Pinterest. Instead, if you search for a certain term results will show up that have the term in their caption, in the url or anywhere else. It does not matter whether the pound sign is in front of the word or not for the search.

Hashtags on Tumblr

Hashtags are used in a slightly different way on Tumblr. First of all, they are called tags instead of hashtags. The hashtags are still clickable like on other platforms. If you search for a hashtag, you should know about the differences it makes if you want to look for one or two tags. If you type in two words with each having a hashtag symbol in front you will get results that include either one of them. If you type the same two words in but leave the tag in front of the second word out, the search engine will come up with results that include both search terms.

Hashtags on Flickr

Again how you use hashtags differs on Flickr. They are called tags instead of hashtags on the platform. Here you can add up to 75 of your own hashtags. The hashtags can either be directly in the text and marked with a # symbol or you can add them in a box on the right side of the photograph. The platform distinguishes tags that you added from hashtags that were automatically added by an algorithm and by what words you used in the caption. The latter come with a thin grey edging while the ones that are chosen by the user are dark grey throughout. The hashtags are still clickable like on other platforms. If you search for a hashtag all posts that include the word after the # symbol will show up even if the results are not marked as hashtags. With their picture analysis technology Flickr tries to identify other relevant hashtags and add those to your post automatically. You can use spaces in your Flickr tags. It is possible to add not only keywords but also persons and locations as tags.