Hashtags are so ubiquitous these days that some of them — think #blessed or #MondayMotivation — have become memes in their own right. You probably see hundreds or even thousands of hashtags on social media during your daily scrolling, but that very ubiquity can cause hashtags to fade into the background, just more noise in the chaotic storm of input we’re all faced with in our day-to-day online activities. If you’re asking, “Are hashtags still useful in 2022?” you’re not alone! The answer is yes — but only if you understand when, where, and how to use hashtags.
Today we’re sharing some of our #protips for effectively using hashtags in social media marketing, but to quote Carl Sagan, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” With that in mind, let’s establish the basics: What are hashtags, and where did they come from?
Hashtags 101: Definition and History of the Hashtag
Hashtags are a form of metadata tag used on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok that can help users categorize, sort and search for relevant content. A hashtag consists of a number sign — also known by anyone older than Gen Z as a pound sign, or by typography nerds as an octothorpe — followed by a key word or phrase. Hashtags can be a single word, like #fun, or a few, like #vegancookingtips.
Most of us associate them with Twitter and other social media apps, but the history of hashtags actually goes all the way back to 1988, when they were used to categorize messages, images, and other content on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), an early instant messaging service. Despite those early-internet roots, however, hashtags didn’t really emerge in their current form until almost two decades later. The term “hashtag” was coined by blogger Stowe Boyd in 2007, but it wasn’t until Twitter user Nate Ridder sent out a flurry of tweets appended with #sandiegofire that the use of the hashtag really took off.
A full two years later, Twitter finally got on board with hashtags and started hyperlinking any phrase starting with #. The later introduction of Trending Topics enshrined hashtags in Twitter functionality, an act that also laid the groundwork for future social media platforms to adopt hashtags as a major element of their search and discovery functions. Now, hashtags not only determine what shows up when you do a keyword search on a social media platform but also impact what that platform’s algorithm chooses to show you on your “Explore” or “For You” page.
The Best Ways to Use Hashtags in 2022
Be specific — but not too specific.
According to some estimates, users upload over 100 million photos to Instagram per day, which means that any content you add to the platform is competing with a tsunami of other posts. Strategic use of hashtags is still one of the very best ways to connect with potential customers, but to do that, you may have to experiment with broadening and narrowing the scope of your hashtags.
Let’s say that you own a veterinary clinic and you add #dog to your latest Instagram post. The #dog hashtag is extremely popular… In fact, it’s so popular that there are well over 340 million posts with that hashtag. Users are constantly uploading photos of their dogs, so there’s extremely high turnover in the “most recent” feed. Casting such a wide net may get you some likes and comments from fellow dog lovers, but they’re likely to be from all over the world. They could include people who own a dog and are looking for a vet in your area, or they could be people who just like to scroll puppy pics in their downtime.
If you get a little more specific with your hashtags, you can narrow the viewership of your post down from hundreds of millions to something more likely to rope in the people you actually want following your business account. For example, #dogsofatlanta and #atlantadogs have 234k and 98k posts respectively. #dogsofthebeltline has a little over 1k posts… But if you’re trying to attract customers from Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, or other Beltline-adjacent neighborhoods, those are exactly the folks you want to connect with.
Keep in mind that as you increase the specificity of your hashtags, you’re decreasing the pool of likely users who will see your content. Hashtags like #atlantasharpei or #atlantadogmom (each of which have less than 50 posts) may be too specific to net the engagement you’re looking for.
Aim for a mix of hashtags.
One of the best things you can do to harness hashtags for your business is to mix it up.
- Experiment with a combination of broader, general interest hashtags and more specific hashtags that target users based on interests, events, or locations.
- Don’t just copy and paste the same list of hashtags into every post. Your hashtags should change based on the purpose of the post, and yes, you should always know the purpose of what you’re posting. Is it a cute photo to attract the attention of local pet owners? Is it an informational post that will add value to and build trust within your community? Is it a more direct call to action because you accidentally ordered too many doggy sweaters and you’re running a sale to move some inventory? Whatever the reason, consider how your hashtags can complement the purpose of the post.
- Keep in mind that hashtags can be functional, but also fun! Using a funny or topical hashtag in your caption can add flavor as long as you don’t overdo it. If you’re including a hashtag in the main text of your caption for that purpose, minimalism is key. No one enjoys #reading a #sentence that is #interrupted by #toomany #hashtags.
To combat this, place the bulk of your hashtags at the end of the caption, or even place them in a comment on the post to avoid a super long wall of text.
- If you have a presence on multiple social media platforms, tailor your hashtags to the viewers who are actually there. Pay attention to trending topics and jump in on a trend every now and then as appropriate. TikTok is made for fun trends like the #whatthefluffchallenge and is more likely to connect you with a younger user base, whereas the same content won’t hit the same with older Facebook users.
If you’re interested in harnessing the power of social media for your business, TrustWorkz can help with a mix of paid and organic social media marketing. Get in touch to learn more about our Atlanta digital marketing agency and set your business up for #success.