Using hashtags (wisely) for your online business
I didn't know people were confused by hashtags until very recently, but I'm glad someone let me know. The correct - or incorrect - use of hashtags is never going to make or break your business, but it is one of many tiny moves that can gradually erode or build your brand.
What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is literally the symbol #. On the internet, and specifically social media, hashtags are words and phrases preceded by the # symbol.
What are they used for?
Think of them like any other type of tag, label or category - they simply link the item that has been tagged with all of the other items that use the same tag, just by clicking on it. Like any other time you use a label, the idea is to make the item instantly visible as being part of a specific group or to facilitate the finding of the item when it is mixed in with other items that are not part of the group.
Why might I get confused?
- On social media, the word tagging is also used to describe other operations that are NOT hashtags. For example, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you can "tag" another user by adding their username in the text. This is simply "tagging", and is not the same as using hashtags.
- Sometimes people or brands use hashtags in a way that is generally considered bad for branding or somewhat immoral. That usually happens when people use a hashtag connected with something very popular or controversial in order to get more people looking at it, even though their content has nothing to do with that popular/controversial topic.
- Finally, there is a constantly-evolving list of hashtags that are banned on Instagram because they are considered spammy. If you use one, your account might be "shadowbanned", which means that no one can find your posts via ANY hashtags, even non-prohibited ones. A list of banned hashtags (which may or may not be accurate) is here.
How other companies use hashtags (click to view slideshow)
How can I use hashtags for my business?
Using hashtags appropriately can be good for your business, as it helps people find content that is relevant to them. When you're using hashtags, only use ones that are genuinely linked to the topic and are likely to HELP people to find things that they're interested in.
Different social networks tend to opt for different numbers of hashtags in any given post. Instagram is most famous for large numbers of hashtags, while other networks use only 1 or 2 per post. You can see more details about that here.
Branded hashtags are specific hashtags that have been created by a brand to draw attention to...their brand! You can do this with your business - create a unique hashtag and use it wherever you talk about your brand. You can also create multiple unique hashtags for different parts or events in your business, but don't go crazy - your branded hashtags should grow along with your business (i.e. smaller businesses don't need 20 personalized hashtags).
There are also lots of tools that will help you find hashtags relevant to your content but listed by popularity, so you can ensure you the most popular of the options, meaning more people will see it (and by association, your content).
How do I decide what hashtags to use?
Pick a handful of hashtags to trial, and record the results (in an Excel spreadsheet or similar). After a few weeks of regular use and recording, you should be able to see if one or two hashtags improve the reach and engagement of your posts, at which point, you can decide which hashtahgs to dump, which to keep and what new ones you want to try.