what is a hashtag

What is a Hashtag? Why and How to Use Them.


We’re starting to see hashtags all over our social media networks. However, there are still many people who don’t really understand what a hashtag is, and the benefit or purpose of using them. Let’s start by defining what a hashtag is. To do this, let’s go to one of our favorite sources, Google.

hashtag definition

Google defines as a hashtag as a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic. This is a nice and concise explanation. It highlights that there are two key components to a hashtag. The first is the structure of the hashtag. A hashtag is always structured by a pound sign (#) and then a phrase with no spaces or punctuation. When the hashtag is structured correctly, it automatically creates a hyperlink that displays search results for posts with that same exact hashtag. The second key component is the overall concept. A hashtag is used to easily categorize similar posts that all include the identical hashtag.

Where do you use hashtags?

Hashtags are used most commonly on social media websites. You’ll find them appear frequently on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Sometimes people use hashtags within the sentences in their post updates and other times the hashtags are added at the end as a way to categorize the post.

Why should you use hashtags?

Using hashtags makes it easier for users to find and follow relevant discussions. Many people have saved hashtag streams they review for their favorite social media networks. They might follow a hashtag for a topic they are passionate about or a company they are involved with. When a random person uses a hashtag in a post, anyone monitoring that hashtag would see the post in their stream and be alerted that there is a post they may be interested in. For businesses, this is a great way to gain followers and receive attention from users who previously had never heard of you.

Another fun use of hashtags is to use them to explore new users to follow. You may have just posted an update with a hashtag you are passionate about. You can click on your own hashtag and view all of the other users who have used that hashtag. You might find a person of interest to follow.

Hashtags also make it easier for companies to track the performance of campaigns. If you run a campaign using a particular hashtag, you can get metrics to gauge participants and total reach.

How Many Hashtags Should I Use?

The answer to this will vary depending on the social network and your audience. As a general rule of thumb, you should use less than 3. A study by Buddy Media showed tweets with hashtags received twice as much engagement as those without. However, tweets with more than 2 hashtags showed a 17% drop in engagement. On Facebook, early research showed that adding hashtags actually had a negative impact on reach. Hashtags are a relatively new addition to Facebook (added in 2013) and users are now starting to accept them. Facebook hashtags now perform more similarly to Twitter hashtags in that adding more than 2 starts to negatively impact engagement.

Instagram seems to be the exception to the less than 3 hashtag rule. On Instagram, posts seem to have the most interaction with 4-5 hashtags.

Google Plus actually automatically adds hashtags to posts. You want to take advantage of this feature as the suggested hashtags will typically receive more search traffic. You still want to be careful not to overdo hashtags on this network. Aim for around 3 and a maximum of 5.

LinkedIn has gone back and forth with hashtag support. They are currently supporting them again. Since hashtags are new to linkedin it’s hard to say what the optimal number of hashtags are. For now, I’d recommend using anywhere from 0-2 hashtags.

how many hashtags to use

Should I use hashtags in paid social ads?

It seems, specifically on Twitter, hashtags in paid ads actually cause a negative impact on interactions. Since hashtags are hyperlinks, they steal the focus from your primary call-to-action in the ad. Of course, you should test what works best for your audience but as a rule of thumb you may want to consider removing hashtags from social ads.

How do you own a hashtag?

It’s important to understand that you cannot legally own a hashtag. Because of this, the best strategy is to attempt to dominate the use of the hashtag. Here are some tips to dominate a hashtag:

  • Before you start advertising a particular hashtag, check to see what (if anything) it’s been used for previously. If it’s already popular, search for something different. If it has a negative connotation or a tone that would conflict with your brand message, search for something different.
  • Keep it unique, but simple and short. Make sure the hashtag is reflective of your company or campaign while also being easy to remember. Be careful not to make the hashtag too long since certain social networks have character restrictions.
  • Choose a hashtag that isn’t likely to be misspelled.
  • Use capitalization to help separate words. You’ll want to make sure that if the capitalization is removed the hashtag doesn’t create a different word.
  • Make sure the hashtag is used often. Not only should you use the hashtag yourself but encourage your users to share and use the hashtag as well. Consider incorporating the hashtag into traditional media as well such as billboards or TV commercials.
  • Monitor the hashtag regularly. Keep an eye on updates that are posted using your hashtag and interact with those users and posts. Make sure that overall tone associated with posts containing your hashtag are appropriate with the brand message you are trying to convey.

How do I find historical data and stats on a hashtag?

There are a few tools you can use. Here are a few, listed in no particular order, that I have not extensively tested. All of these tools have limited free options.

Do you have any additional tips about hashtags and why or how we should use them? Please add a comment and let us know.

About the Author

Jennifer Rogina has been a digital marketing specialist since 2008. During those years she has focused on Pay Per Click Advertising, Search Engine Optimization, and Conversion Rate Optimization.