A hashtag is a short link that is preceded by the pound sign #. When a user adds a hashtag to their post it can then be indexed by the social network and becomes searchable by other users. Someone clicking on the hashtag will be taken to a page which combines all of the content with the same hashtag.

The word “hashtag” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2010, and the Scrabble dictionary in 2014 which shows the increasing relevance of the term over the past few years.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a hashtag is

 “A word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications, especially Twitter, to identify messages on a specific topic.”

The first use of a hashtag in social media can be traced back to one man. Chris Messina, a former Google employee, sent the first tweet that contained a hashtag in 2007. With that tweet, the hashtag was born. 

Why are hashtags useful?

While hashtags tend to confuse many, they are an integral part of how we communicate and market online these days. Most social platforms are getting busier and noisier, and it can be a significant challenge to attract the attention of your ideal audience. In order for your content marketing efforts to be successful you need to find a way to get your content in front of the right people. This is where hashtags come in. They provide a means to give your content added visibility.

For a small business, hashtags can be a powerful tool to help you:

  • Connect with your audience across several platforms.
  • Maximise social media engagement.
  • Amplify your message and increase your brand’s visibility on social media.
  • Define your content as well as make it easier to find
  • Launch integrated marketing campaigns across different platforms

Hashtag tools/ research

If you are just starting out, searching for the right hashtags can seem very daunting. Fortunately there are tools out there to help streamline the hashtag search by collecting usage data, sharing popularity metrics and giving you an opportunity to explore the meanings of certain hashtags. Let’s look at a few of them.

  • Hashtag.org
    • This website tasks itself with organizing the world’s hashtags. You can explore trending and popular hashtags, find definitions for popular hashtags and search for specific ones
  • Hashtagify.me
    •  A hashtag search engine that identifies top hashtags and influencers on twitter and Instagram
  • Trendsmap
    •  This tool tracks what's trending on Twitter globally, nationally and locally.
  • RiteTag 
    • If you don’t know what hashtags to use RiteTag can give you suggestions for images and texts on any site. It can be used for social media platforms, such as Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Buffer and Hootsuite. RiteTag also colour codes hashtags according to how successful they are and which ones to avoid.

 How to use hashtags

Once you’ve done your research it’s time to test your hashtag. It is best not to use more than three hashtags per post, but this varies depending on the social media platform that you use.  Share your content in multiple messages using a different hashtag each time and see which one performs best. Hashtags can also be used in offline promotions. Make your hashtags specific to the audience you are trying to attract. The more targeted the more engaged your audience will be with your content.

Hashtag Best Practice

Now you know what hashtags are and how to create them let’s take a moment to look at best practice to help you be more successful with them.

Don’t keyword stuff

In other words don’t spam. Stuffing keywords is very off putting for a user. It looks desperate.

Be specific

Try and be as specific as possible. You want an engaged audience not one that sees your information as not relevant.

Utilize trending hashtags

By joining trending topics you stand a greater chance of being found. However, if you have nothing to add to the conversation you give a bad impression to readers.

Use the appropriate number of hashtags on each platform

Use the appropriate number of hashtags on each respective platform. Too many hashtags can make your content hard to read and understand.

Have fun creating hashtags.