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To Hashtag or not to Hashtag? How to effectively use them is the real question

By Kelsey Blevins, PR Account Coordinator 

While visiting home the other day my 13-year old sister said what I thought was one of the stupidest things ever, but for her generation today it is perfectly acceptable. She had called the house from the nurse’s office at school because she wasn’t feeling well. My mom was having the hardest time understanding her, and after an aggravatingly long conversation my mom figured out she was holding the cord phone upside down. Though I found that pretty ridiculous, I will save that rant for a different day as this post is about what my sister said in the course of this conversation. 

During my mom’s interrogation to figure out why she couldn’t understand her, my sister was describing the confusing buttons on this archaic cord phone and I started tuning out the infuriatingly slow conversation until she said, “um there is a hashtag button.” Excuse me? What the hell is hashtag button? Normal people call this the pound key. I would have even accepted the number button. So in honor of her blatant misuse of this term and the amount of times I have been asked “what is a hashtag,” I wanted to give my two cents on how to effectively and properly use hashtags.

What is a hashtag and where do you use it?

The # symbol, called a hashtag, was organically started in 2007 by Twitter users to categorize messages. Hashtags are used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet so they show more easily in Twitter Search. Even though they started on Twitter, hashtags have grown to be a part of almost every social network including Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube and Google+. Although very similar, effective hashtag usage across these platforms varies.

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Facebook only recently added hashtags in 2013, and most people do not use them. Like on Twitter, clicking on Facebook hashtags will take you to a list of posts containing the same hashtag.

Hashtags on Google+ are also a little different than other platforms. Google+ will automatically assign hashtags to your post, and in my experience they are pretty spot on. However, you do have the ability to add or edit the hashtags. Clicking on a hashtag in Google+ will provide you with search results including the original hashtag as well as posts with similar hashtags. Hashtags are now built right into Google Search as well.

 

#Don’t #Hashtag #Everything

Tweets with hashtags receive more engagement, so it would seem intuitive to use as many as you can. However, this is not the case. Studies show that two hashtags is the optimal maximum amount you should use in a single tweet or Facebook post. Once you hit three hashtags, there is a significant drop in engagement.

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One exception to the two-hashtag limit is Instagram. Instagram posts with 11 or more hashtags see the highest interaction levels.

This hashtag rule also includes hashtagging whole sentences. No one has time to decipher what #Icantwaittogoonanafricansafariandseealionattack says. As a child who didn’t learn how to read until she was in second grade and had to be ‘hooked on phonics,’ you are going to give me a complex.

 

A few more tidbits…

Although most marketers and social media experts don’t condone it, I happen to love using hashtags as an under-your-breath, sarcastic side comment. They most likely wont help users find your post or tweet, but they are hilarious and your current followers will appreciate them.

Do not feel like you have to use a hashtag in every tweet or post. Only use a hashtag when it is relevant. Also, make sure you choose your hashtags carefully. Search the desired hashtag on Social Mention, Hashtagify.me or even Twitter Search to make sure you want to be a part of that conversation and that others are indeed using the hashtag.

Don’t know what to hashtag to join a relevant conversation? No problem. Websites like Twitalyzer will tell you how top influencers are using hashtags on Twitter.

Hashtags can seem confusing to new users but as long as you follow the above general guidelines you will be fine. Just remember, putting # in front of random words doesn’t make those words any more powerful. Choose your hashtags carefully.

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Topics: Social Media