Hashtags – you either love them, hate them or are still puzzled by them. Fall within the latter group? It’s your lucky day! We’re going to decode the hashtag once and for all.
But first, what exactly is a hashtag?
If the pound “#” symbol comes to mind, you’re thinking in the right direction. On social media, a hashtag refers to a keyword or topic that is preceded by the pound ‘#’ symbol. With ‘#’ preceding it, a keyword or topic becomes an active link and index of sorts – a window to the hundreds or millions of other tweets, Facebook status updates, Instagram posts and con
tent on said topic. While hashtags may have originated on Twitter, they can be used on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. On Instagram especially, hashtags have become an integral part of building community and increasing engagement.
Aside the custom hashtags that a brand may create to index its content, “community hashtags” like #ThrowbackThursay and #MondayMotivation have become very popular and are used by millions of people across the world. A hashtag which is used frequently in a short span of time becomes a “trending hashtag” or topic, largely on Twitter and Facebook.
Put simply, a hashtag is a digital encyclopaedia and index that serves as a doorway to new, popular and real time information and updates on a specific topic. - @jabdulai Click To Tweet
How can you use a hashtag?
There are numerous ways of using hashtags, depending on one’s content and social media marketing goals, however the list below gives a general sense of the main ways hashtags can be used.
- To log, organise or find information online.
- To brand yourself eg. if you own a restaurant, you can create a custom hashtag specific to your brand and encourage your customers to share photos or updates with that hashtag. For instance, we use #Circumspecte to index all content related to Circumspecte online.
- To capture conversations on a specific topic or to track a digital event e.g. #WomenInBusinessGH was used to during our recent Twitter Chat on women entrepreneurs in Ghana. Missed the event? All you have to do is click the hashtag to know what happened.
- To raise awareness about and galvanise support for a cause. The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag is a great example of how a tweet by the right person using the right hashtag can generate global awareness on an issue of concern or importance. Years later, the hashtag still has entries and contributions.
- To build community and discover a “tribe” of individuals, organisations and social media accounts with similar interests. Eg. As someone whose taken a great interest in fitness and health, I use #ThatFitLife to share and follow content related to workouts and healthy living.
- To increase the visibility of the information you publish, especially if you can get your hashtag to trend or be used by many people. Breaking news is a great example of this – man
y people find out about news events through trending hashtags or topics on Twitter.
- To add personality and humour to your tweets, Facebook or Google+ posts eg. using #justkidding or #sorrynotsorry to contradict a statement you made.
Consider this tweet by Circumspecte (@Circumspecte_) which features the different hashtag types:
- Trending Hashtag: ‘#Ghana’ is a popular or trending hashtag in Ghana. It logs and identifies this tweet and its content as relevant to Ghana. When clicked, it opens up a doorway to other tweets and conversations on Ghana – both by Circumspecte and other individuals and entities across the world.
- Community Hashtag: ‘#WCW’ is a community hashtag often used to highlight inspiring women or share content to inspire and celebrate women.
- Custom Hashtag: ‘#SisterhoodMatters‘ is a custom hashtag created to index all content related to Circumspecte’s Sisterhood Matters event.
Go ahead, click any of the hashtags above and see what pops up.
What should(n’t) you do?
- Don’t use more than five hashtags for LinkedIn or Facebook posts – it begins to look and feel spammy. Instagram allows you to use as many as 30 hashtags on a single post, but you don’t have to use them all, just keep them relevant. For Twitter, I’d say keep it to about seven, and try to be creative in how it’s presented.
- Don’t use only hashtags throughout a post – it makes it really hard to read, ergo, no real communication.
- Do include your custom hashtags in your Twitter and Instagram bios – they are clickable and bios are precious digital real estate.
- Don’t use special characters like & ! % within your hashtag – they aren’t recognised (yet) and will not be linked. You can however use numbers, the underscore _ symbol, and even emoijis.
- Do keep your hashtag specific, relatable and relevant (inside jokes could backfire depending on audience). The goal is to make it accurate and easy to remember.
- Do add context, but keep your hashtag simple and short, about 15 characters max (the longer the hashtag, the less likely others will be to remember or use it).
- Do follow hashtag trends – and use them if they relate to your interests. On Twitter, you can find out which hashtags are trending in a specific country or globally. by looking at the ‘X Trends” box underneath your profile box on the home page. Instagram hashtags usually indicate how many people have used them. They also show the top and most recent posts related to that hashtag and allow you to actually follow specific hashtags.
- Do create custom hashtags for your event, brand, or campaign.
- Do use community hashtags (on Instagram) or contribute to trending topics (on Twitter)
- Do experiment and have fun! There are tons of hashtags which allow people to share their experiences, thoughts, and so on. Join in!
That’s it for now – questions or comments? Leave them below. #HappyHashtagging! Want more insight into how you can make hashtags work for you? Sign up for a personalized training (in-person or virtual) with me.
Jemila Abdulai is an international development and media specialist and the founder of Circumspecte; a digital platform dedicated to meaningful insights, interactions and creative action related to Africa and Africans.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.