< Back to Blog

How do Hashtags Even Work?

Adam Hopwood

How do Hashtags Even Work? by Adam Hopwood on June 10th, 2020

Ever since 2007, when a Twitter user famously suggested the use of the pound (#) symbol as a way of organizing discussion subjects on Twitter, the hashtag has become an integral part of online business and culture. When used properly, hashtags can be an effective way of building your brand, taking part in larger conversations, and getting more eyeballs on your content. But how do they even work? What’s the difference between a Twitter hashtag and an Instagram hashtag? Why does a major brand use 2 hashtags to promote a new product line, while your best friend uses 22 to promote their brunch?

Below is a quick and dirty guide for how hashtags work, how to get the most out of them, and mistakes to avoid.

Twitter: 

Being the originator of its use, it’s no surprise that hashtags are embedded into the DNA of Twitter. Twitter uses hashtags as a way of organizing conversations around a single topic into one, easily-searchable stream. Whether it’s a conversation about the #Tokyo2020 Olympics, or about #dogs, when you precede a topic with the a #, Twitter aggregates your post into a stream alongside anyone else who used that hashtag. It’s a great way to jump onto trending topics, talk about current events, and for marketers, generate a conversation.

But with Twitter’s 280 character limit, text is prime real-estate on Twitter. Research also shows that while using 1 hashtags is better than none, engagement steeply drops if you use more than 2. For marketers, this means hashtags should be used sparingly and with purpose.

Try creating your own hashtag that people will strongly associate with your brand (like the Toronto Raptors using #WeTheNorth), or with your campaign (like the Alzheimer’s Association with their #EndAlzheimers campaign). You can even jump onto trending or popular hashtags to get your content in front of more people, so long as it’s appropriate and not too forced. 

Instagram: 

Hashtags are the bread and butter of Instagram. When you add that # into the copy or comments of an image you upload, Instagram categorizes your content alongside users who did the same. Like Twitter, you can search specific hashtags and see the most popular, and most recent posts in that category. Unlike Twitter, you can also follow certain hashtags and have that content come up in your newsfeed. In short, hashtags are how your Instagram content makes it out to a wider audience than just your fanbase. But what’s the best strategy?

The data suggests that even though Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, the sweet spot for engagement seems to be around 10. For marketers, this means you need to be strategic. Consider your page size and the likelihood of your content being seen on the more popular streams, and maybe opt for something more tailored to your brand. For example, #DIY is a highly popular hashtag, with 55M posts, while #DIYcrafts is more specific and only has 800K posts. 

Facebook:

Of the 3 major platforms, Facebook is the one where hashtagging never quite caught on. Facebook is mostly people, and most of those people have their accounts set to private. You can hashtag from a private account, sure, but nobody is going to see it. For this reason, hashtagging doesn’t see a lot of utility with personal accounts. But do they have a place in Facebook marketing? Sure! 

Adding a hashtag before any word in your Facebook copy will instantly turn it into a clickable link. And clicking that link will take you from your posts, to other posts with the same hashtag. It’s a useful way for brands to group their content together so users can fund it easier. A brand promoting makeup tutorial videos might use the same hashtag to group those videos together. A brand promoting an event might create a hashtag to group all that information in one place. There are ways to make it work, so long as you remember that hashtags aren’t the default search method on Facebook.

Best Practices:

Keep it simple: Convoluted tags don’t read well, are less likely to be used by others, and in the tragic case of Susan Boyle’s #susanalbumreleaseparty, can send an undesirable message. 

Be specific: Think of what kind audience might be interested in seeing your content, and what hashtags they might use to look for it. Use those.

Research: Look at how a hashtag is being used, what kind of content comes up when you search it, and more importantly, that it’s appropriate for your brand

Check your spelling: A search reveals 3,308 people have used the hashtag #hapymothersday. That’s 3 thousand moms who never got their Mother’s Day love. Check your spelling and make sure your content doesn’t end up in social limbo.

Don’t be spammy: Put yourself in the user’s shoes. If they were searching a certain hashtag, would they appreciate seeing your content in the mix?