A quick guide to hashtags

Hashtags are one of the most important organic social media strategies for your brand, but many business owners don’t have a solid plan in place for how to use them. Trending hashtags change all the time, and it’s simply not enough to use the same general hashtags over and over again when sharing your content on social media.

If hashtags aren’t dramatically helping to increase engagement with your audience, build your brand awareness and loyalty, and allow your target market to find you on social media, then you’ll want to keep reading.

This in-depth guide will tell you everything you need to know about hashtags and how you can successfully use them to boost your brand’s success.

What is a hashtag?

Hashtags are labels used on social media to group content of the same theme or topic together.

More specifically, a hashtag is a word, unspaced phrase, or combination of letters and numbers with a ‘#,’ or hash symbol placed in front of it. As a result, hashtags look like this: #photography, #Apollo50th, #nofilter.

The # symbol may also be referred to as a number sign or pound sign, but it’s most modernly referenced as a ‘hashtag symbol’ by internet users.

The # function was created on Twitter; however, it has grown to become a widely used feature across all social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.

As soon as you place a ‘#’ in front of a word, it will automatically become a clickable link that directs users to a collection of content containing that same hashtag. This allows people to search for a particular topic they’re interested in and filter through the relevant results. 

Additionally, any social media user can use the function when sharing content on social media to categorize their post under relevant topics or search terms. This allows them to add to the discussion and make their own social media content discoverable by other users.

What does hashtag mean?

The word itself refers to the ‘hash’ symbol (#). It is, therefore, a combination of the word ‘hash’ and the word ‘tag,’ which is defined as a method of labeling something as belonging to a particular category.

As significant events occur worldwide, people now tune into hashtags on social media to keep up to date with the situation as it unfolds. Some examples from the past decade include the #MarathonBombings, #coronavirus, and #USelection2020 — with each of these seeing millions of people tuning in for timely news updates.

While hashtags serve a vital function during newsworthy events, disasters, and even global pandemics, you also can’t underestimate their business significance. Brands incorporate them as an important marketing strategy to draw attention, organize content, promote their product or service, and connect with their target audience, all of which we’ll be discussing in more detail throughout this guide.

Why use hashtags?

Let’s turn our attention to the several important reasons you should use hashtags in your social media strategy.

#1. Increases engagement with your following. In its humble beginnings, social media had one key purpose: to allow users to connect and engage with a wider community. Adding relevant hashtags to your content can dramatically increase your engagement rates, including the number of likes, comments, shares, and new followers you receive. This is because they allow you to enter into the conversation about a particular topic, therefore making your content visible to those interested in that same subject.

Don’t just take our word for it, though. Studies show that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement than those without, while Tweets that include a ‘#’ can see as much as a 1,065% increase in engagement compared to a similar Tweet without.

#2. Builds your brand. You can also create branded hashtags as a great way to promote your business and boost your brand. These are unique because they are distinctive to your business. For example, they might include your business name, the name of your product/service or campaign, or your brand’s motto.

Not only are branded hashtags a great way to generate conversation and buzz around your product or service, but they also allow you to easily track contest entries and measure your marketing campaign’s engagement.

#3. Shows support for social issues. Selected hashtags can also show support for various social issues, charities, or other important causes. Popular examples include #IWD2021 and #ChoosetoChallenge for the most recent International Women’s Day, as well as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo.

Posting content in support of these issues is a great way to get behind important initiatives and showcase your brand’s values and beliefs. It also allows you to weigh in on the discussion and maintain your brand’s relevance and attention to social or political events.

#4. Adds context to a social media post. Not all social media platforms let you write a caption as long as you want. Twitter, for example, limits a post to just 280 characters. This is because, in the fast-paced world of social media, less is more — particularly when it comes to captions.

Hashtags allow you to add necessary context to your message without the need for repetitive sentences or using up your valuable character count.

#5. Assists your target audience to find you. One of the biggest challenges facing brands every day is how they can successfully put themselves in front of their target audience. Social media is one way, but unless you’re using the appropriate hashtags, you’re simply not maximizing your content’s reach.

On some platforms, such as Instagram and LinkedIn, users can also follow specific hashtags they’re interested in. Depending on how you hashtag your content, someone who follows that hashtag will then see your recent post in their feed. This could then lead to them following your brand and continuing to engage with your content.

How to hashtag

Thankfully, using hashtags isn’t difficult, but it does require some prior knowledge to make sure you’re doing it successfully.

#1. Don’t include spaces, punctuation, or symbols. Hashtags are made up of single words, abbreviations, a combination of letters and numbers, or a phrase. However, it’s important to note that you cannot include a space between letters, numbers, or words within it. Otherwise, it won’t work.

They also cannot contain punctuation or symbols, other than the ‘#’ symbol at the beginning, of course.

It is not possible for a # to only contain numbers. However, numbers can be paired with letters to create an effective tag. Popular examples include #conference2021 or #SXSW21.

#2. Begin with the # symbol. In its simplest form, a hashtag is a ‘tag’ with a ‘hash’ (#) symbol in front of it. Placing the # in any other position will not be effective, as it must be placed at the start.

#3. Create your own hashtag. Often, users will tag their content with hashtags that are trending or common; however, you can also create your own unique hashtag, if you wish. You don’t need specialized training or tools, nor do you have to register your hashtag anywhere.

Creating your own is as simple as thinking of one that has not currently been used before. To increase your chances of success, aim to make it specific to your own business rather than a broad category.

#4. Make it unique. To find out if your idea already exists, type it into the search bar of your social media network. Keep in mind that millions — if not billions — of hashtags are already in circulation, so don’t be disappointed if your idea is already taken.

Don’t forget to search for usernames that match your intended tag, too, as you don’t want to be accused of attempting to hijack someone’s brand name.

You can also differentiate it by adding numbers or using abbreviations.

#5. Keep hashtags short and memorable. Ideally, it should be an understandable word, phrase, or abbreviation when creating a new one. You don’t want users to misinterpret the hashtag, nor should it be confusing to determine what it’s about.

You also don’t want it to be too long, particularly on platforms like Twitter, where your character count is limited. Short hashtags aren’t just easier to use but also carry the benefit of being more memorable for your audience.

#6. How to use a hashtag that already exists. If you want to use already-existing hashtags that are still relevant to your content, that’s totally fine, too, as these can also place your content in front of a larger, more targeted audience. When you use a hashtag that is already in use, it’s like chiming in on a current conversation and offering your own voice, support, or perspective.

Simply place the hashtag naturally within your caption, for example, “Celebrating #SmallBusiness at the #SmallBizSummit.” Alternatively, you can place them at the end of your caption.

#7. When not to use a hashtag. Aside from the technical specifications for using hashtags, it’s also best practice not to use too many in your message. Hashtag overload can make your social media post seem like spam and may make your caption or message difficult to read.

Additionally, you should avoid using any that are unrelated to your content, as this is considered poor etiquette. Not only is it unhelpful for users searching for content genuinely linked to that topic or theme, but it also makes you appear ingenuine. In some cases, this could even lead to being reported.

How to use hashtags on every social network

Once you know how to hashtag, it’s vital to understand how you should use them on each specific social media platform

How to use Twitter hashtags 

The ideal number of hashtags to use per post: 1-2

Hashtags can be used anywhere within your Tweets; however, they are most frequently placed within the message naturally or at the end to provide additional context. Additionally, they can be included in your Twitter bio on your profile, as well as in your replies and Retweets.

Technically, there is no limit on the number you can use in a post. Twitter recommends using no more than two per Tweet as best practice.

Twitter’s trending hashtagss are constantly changing, but you can see the latest trending topics on your dashboard by clicking on the #Explore tab, then selecting the“trending” tab.

To find hashtagged content on Twitter, simply type your search term with a # in front of it into the search bar.

How to use Facebook hashtags

The ideal number of hashtags to use per post: 1-2

Hashtags can be used anywhere within your Facebook post, including within the comments.

If you have a private Facebook group or belong to one, you can also group related content with relevant tags. To search for this content, use the “search this group” bar under the group’s menu.

To search through content on the entire platform, type your tag into Facebook’s main search bar at the top.

To monitor hashtags your brand has created, type in the following URL: ‘facebook.com/hashtag/_____’. Include the keyword you want to search at the end. This will show you which public profiles are uploading content relating to that tag.

How to use Instagram hashtags

The ideal number of hashtags to use per post: 5-10

To keep your Instagram caption uncluttered and easy to read, it’s recommended that you place your related hashtags at the end of your message.

Tags can also be included in the comments section of posts, as well as in your profile’s bio.

Although Instagram allows for up to 30 hashtags per post and up to 10 hashtags per Story, studies show 5-10 are most effective.

The platform also allows users to follow hashtags, so content from any account will appear in your feed if it includes the # you’re following — regardless of whether you follow that account or not.

You can search for hashtagged content you’re interested in by typing your desired word or phrase in the Tags tab of Instagram’s Explore section.

If you have an Instagram Business account, you can also access Instagram Insights. These allow you to see how many impressions your profile got from hashtags alone.

How to use YouTube hashtags

The ideal number of hashtags to use per post: 2-3

Hashtags can be added into two places when you upload a video on YouTube: in the title and within the description.

Users can click on any hyperlink to be directed to a page filled with content containing the same tag.

If you don’t include them in the title, the first three hashtags you typed in the description will be displayed above your video’s title.

Although YouTube allows you to tag your content with up to 15 hashtags, any more than 15 can cause your content to be flagged for removal. Additionally, YouTube will ignore any that are over this limit.

How to use LinkedIn hashtags

The ideal number of hashtags to use per post: 1-2

On LinkedIn, you can include relevant hashtags within your updates and any LinkedIn articles you write.

LinkedIn also has a “news and views” section on the home page, which allows you to see trending #s on the platform.

When you write updates, the platform will also offer hashtag suggestions based on your content.

Because LinkedIn is a professional platform, it’s recommended you keep your hashtags professional too.

How to use Pinterest hashtags

The ideal number of hashtags to use per post: 2-5

Pinterest hashtags can be included within a Pin’s description, whether you’re creating a new Pin or Repinning an existing one.

If using the mobile version of Pinterest, the app will suggest related hashtags for you to include.

The platform will allow you to use up to 20 in your content, but less is more with all social media networks.

Pinterest operates like a Search Engine, so aim for tags that contain relevant keywords and are both precise and easily searchable.

How to find the best hashtags to use

There are many ways to find the best tags to use for your own content. We’ve listed each of these below.

#1. Monitor social media influencers and competitors. Write down who the competitors or relevant influencers are in your niche, then analyze their social media accounts to determine how they engage with your shared target audience.

  • Which posts have the most engagement?
  • What # are they using?
  • How many #s do they use per post?

The key here isn’t to copy what they’re doing but to learn what works well, what doesn’t, and how you can use this knowledge to perfect your own social media hashtag strategy.

#2. Use Hashtagify.mean online tool that lets you search particular hashtags to see their popularity, as well as their related tags, top countries, and more. You can also type in your Twitter or Instagram caption, and the tool will provide you with hashtag suggestions.

It focuses on Twitter and Instagram, and while its basic features are free to use, more advanced features such as performance tracking do require a subscription.

A search for “#smallbusiness,” for example, returns the following related ideas:

#3. Use a service to discover trending hashtags. RiteTag is another useful online tool for discovering which hashtags are trending across multiple social media platforms. It offers a limited free trial but then requires a subscription for continued use.

The service works by analyzing your social media caption and the photo you’ll pair with your caption; then, it generates trending # ideas based on your content.

Of course, there are also free methods to discover which #s are trending across your chosen social media platforms, all of which we reveal in the next chapters.

#4. Get a social media listening tool. If you want to take your knowledge to a whole new level, then you might consider trying a social media listening tool such as Hootsuite or Adview.

These tools analyze the conversations and trends occurring both around your business and industry as a whole, helping you to stay better informed about what social media content your target audience wants to consume. 

If technology isn’t your forté, or you just simply lack the time as a business owner, then there are plenty of social media marketing professionals who can help on a freelance basis.

#5. Discover new, related hashtags through social media platforms. Instagram and LinkedIn are particularly helpful to discover additional suggestions, as they also allow you to see related hashtags when you search for the one you wish to use.

Instagram, for example, also has an autocomplete feature, similar to the Google Search Bar. Just include the hashtag symbol “#” and begin typing the word or phrase you had in mind. Instagram’s Search feature will then suggest common hashtags similar to your term, along with their popularity.

We’ll also be delving more into how you can discover trending hashtags on each social media platform in the following chapters.

#6. Analyze which hashtags were successful on past posts. It’s also a great idea to track the hashtags you use on each post and periodically analyze your own social media content. Concentrate on which posts performed well, along with what hashtags you used for it.

Most importantly, see if there are any trends among your most popular posts and the hashtags you used. If so, make sure you always use a combination of those in your content moving forward.

Instagram hashtags refer to those that are used on the popular photo and video sharing social network. Their main aim is to classify content and make it easier to discover among audiences.

It’s important to note that on Instagram, hashtags can also contain emojis, along with the standard inclusion of single words, abbreviations, a combination of letters and numbers, or a phrase.

On Instagram, you can click on hashtags to view a page containing related content or even follow them, so their related content appears in your home feed.

There are 9 distinct types of Instagram hashtags:

  • Product or service hashtags that relate to what you do, sell, or offer. The brand Nike, for example, would use #shoes, #apparel, and #sportswear.
  • Niche hashtags add context in regard to where you fit into your particular industry or niche. For example, #freelancewriter or #abstractartist.
  • Industry Instagram community hashtags allow community members to discover and connect with each other’s content. #bakersofinstagram and #craftersofinstagram are two examples.
  • Special event or seasonal hashtags can include seasonal mentions such as #fall or #summer, or the marking of special events or days throughout the year, i.e., #nationaldonutday.
  • Location hashtags add extra context concerning location. Instagram allows users to geo-tag their photos; however, additional location-specific #s such as #londonbakery or #madeinsydney are also useful.
  • Daily hashtags add a bit of fun or context to your photo. Whether it’s a #throwbackthursday or a #sundayfunday, there’s something to suit every day of the week.
  • Hashtags with phrases relevant to what you do allow community members to connect on an even deeper level. Examples include #amwriting and #becreative.
  • Acronym hashtags are short, fun, and memorable that include acronyms such as #YOLO (you only live once), #OOTD (outfit of the day), and #FTW (for the win).
  • Emoji hashtags contain emojis on their own or words or phrases with emojis attached.

The top 25 hashtags

The most popular hashtags change on a regular basis, however as of April 1st 2021, these are the top 25 hashtags on Instagram:

  • #love
  • #instagood
  • #fashion
  • #photooftheday
  • #beautiful
  • #art
  • #photography
  • #happy
  • #picoftheday
  • #cute
  • #follow
  • #tbt
  • #followme
  • #nature
  • #like4like
  • #travel
  • #instagram
  • #style
  • #repost
  • #summer
  • #instadaily
  • #selfie
  • #me
  • #friends
  • #fitness

Twitter’s trending hashtags are those which are currently being used at a greater rate than other tags. Often, they relate to a current global or regional event, while other times, they have trended through a determined effort by users.

#Covid_19 remains a trending topic due to the global pandemic, while #MeToo is a great example of a # that went viral due to social media users using it to drive awareness about sexual abuse and harassment.

Three ways to find Twitter trending hashtags

To be part of Twitter’s most timely and engaging conversations, you need to know exactly what is trending so you can jump on board. Here are three ways to find out which tags are currently trending on the platform.

1. Native Twitter search. You can keep up with the latest trending hashtags within the platform by navigating to the #Explore tab from your dashboard. Simply click on the “trending” tab to get a list of the topics and tags currently trending in your region.

Along with hashtags that are gaining momentum, users will also find topics chosen for them by the Twitter algorithm based on their interests. Additionally, you can discover the most popular tags across several different categories, such as news, sports, or entertainment.

2. Social listening tools. If you want long-term success on Twitter, you’ll want to focus on Twitter hashtags that are extremely relevant to your target audience’s interests. A great way to do this is to use a social listening tool like Union Metrics to monitor your target audience’s conversation. 

Union Metric’s free Twitter Analytics Report will give you a quick snapshot of recent conversations about your brand, your competitors, a campaign, a hashtag, a trend, a Tweet, and more. The report analyzes potential reach, impressions, conversation size, and top influencers, allowing you to gain a broader picture of the conversations your target users are having on Twitter. 

Union Metric’s paid product also gives you access to real-time insights and alerts, helping you to capitalize on new and trending conversations as they take place.

3. Trendsmap. Another helpful tool is Trendsmap which lets you take your native Twitter search results one step further by actually showing you the hashtag’s performance over time. Additionally, you can view the most popular Tweets relating to each # you search for and the top accounts related to these terms.

This tool helps those who wish to keep up to date with the latest news or happenings regarding their brand, region, or industry. You can set up alerts for when new tweets appear relating to your topic of interest.

YouTube hashtags

Like other social media networks, YouTube hashtags can also improve your target audience’s chances of finding your video.

Their function is to categorize a video based on its theme, type, or topic. When you click on the hashtag symbol ‘#’, you will also be taken to a page containing video content using that same hashtag.

You can find a video’s hashtags in three places on YouTube: above the video’s title, within the title itself, and within the video’s description box.

How to add YouTube hashtags to a video

To add your hashtags to your video’s description, simply type them into the description box when editing it. List your three most relevant and preferred hashtags first, as these will also show up above your video’s title.

You can also insert hashtags into your video’s title, in addition to those that are published above it. To do this, simply type your chosen 1-2 hashtags into the title section when editing it.

All hashtags you add will be clickable, no matter where they are located.

How to find hashtags to use YouTube videos

There are 3 main ways you can discover the perfect hashtags for your YouTube content that will increase your engagement and make it discoverable by your target audience. 

1. Trending videos. Just as with Twitter, YouTube also has a Trending category so you can see which videos are trending. However, it includes videos across many categories, so it can be a little too broad to use in your research.

We recommend searching for the topics you cover on YouTube to determine which videos in your specific niche are trending. If you cover SEO, for example, search #SEO.

This will bring up a mixture of both old and new videos relating to your topic. To narrow these down to just the currently trending videos, set the “upload date” filter to “this week.” Then, browse the results to find videos with the largest number of views. This will determine their popularity, and therefore, these videos can be considered ‘trending’ within this specific category.

Finally, examine these videos to see which hashtags they use. Are there any recurring ones among these trending videos? Or perhaps any related to your own niche that you might not have thought to use before? Note these down to incorporate into your own YouTube hashtag strategy.

2. Popular competitor videos. This method is very similar to the trending videos method we just discussed, but it entails you looking at a channel’s all-time best performing videos, rather than just the videos trending within the current week.

You should look at any of the channels that were trending in the previous step and other channels that you already consider to be your direct competitors on the platform. In other words, they publish video content relating to the same topics as you.

Again, examine which hashtags these videos use and determine if any may be effective with your own content.

3. YouTube Suggest. Remember how we mentioned Instagram has an auto-complete feature when you begin typing a term into its search bar? YouTube also has this feature and will show you hashtags that are most popular on YouTube right now.

All you have to do is type the hashtag symbol into the search bar to see what it suggests. Additionally, you can narrow your research down by searching for individual letters (#a, #b, etc.) or the beginning of relevant phrases.

How to track your hashtag

By now, you no doubt understand just how important hashtags are as a social media marketing strategy. To truly reap the benefits, however, you must analyze their performance and success.

To track your hashtags successfully, you can use the native analytics dashboard on Twitter, or additional tools such as:

Here are the most important metrics to track:

  • Popularity: Popular tags are often searched; therefore, they’re excellent options to include in your strategy. Rather than spamming audiences with irrelevant hashtags just because they’re trending, however, make sure the hashtags you’re targeting are in line with what you’re posting.
  • Reach: The reach of your hashtags refers to how many users see your tagged content. Therefore, the higher your reach, the more successful your strategy is. However, you must be reaching the right audience if you want to reap the benefits of the #s you use.
  • Interactions: While you want users to see your content, it’s more important that they’re actually engaging with it too. When users interact with your tagged content through likes, comments, shares, and new follows, it expands the reach of your campaign.
  • Users: You’ll also want to track who is benefiting from the hashtags you use. Assess these users to make sure they’re within your target market, as this ensures your message is resonating with the right people.

Which hashtags should you track and why?

  • Content hashtags: These are the keywords you hashtag at the end or inside your post to categorize it, such as #socialmedia or #smallbusiness. Tracking them helps you understand which are the most successful when you share things such as blog articles or news relating to your niche.
  • Branded hashtags: A branded hashtag is one that your brand has created with the aim of promotion and engagement with your audience. Tracking these helps you determine how many users are talking about your business, products, or services.
  • Trending hashtags: Many platforms will tell you how many times a trending hashtag has already been used, helping you to assess whether that hashtag is worth integrating into your social media content. When the tag is relevant to your content and appropriate for both your brand and target audience, it can greatly improve your content’s reach.
  • Event hashtags: These are useful for when you’re hosting an event, attending an event within your industry, or sharing live updates of a popular national or international event. Following the event, you can then track the related hashtag to analyze how much buzz the event generated and how this impacted your own reach and engagement.
  • Campaign/ad hashtags: Your own brand creates these to promote and track a campaign, product/service launch, or digital advertisement. Because these hashtags are so specific to your project, it is easier to analyze the project’s results, particularly compared to the recurring hashtags you use.

Mastering your social media hashtag strategy

Hashtags are one of the most important organic social media strategies for your business and serve as a vital component of any social media platform. Not only do they help you increase engagement with your audience, build your brand awareness and loyalty, and allow your target market to find you on social media, but they also allow audiences to show their support for important social issues and receive timely information about newsworthy events.

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Contributor @samcx.com. Passionate about everything Sales, Marketing and Account Management.

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