The practical guide to using #hashtags

Everyone uses them today (some people even overuse them), but hashtags are here to stay. Before you decide to #YourNextTweet, let’s take a look at where this trend came from and what that hashtag really means.

What is a hashtag?

Hashtags are used as metadata tags on various social media platforms to help categorize a specific topic. Searching for a specific hashtag shows you all the conversations taking place where people are using it, exposing you to much more than just people you follow discussing the topic. They can be used to combine content including pictures or text, with messaging for anything from the #AcademyAwards to #BlackLivesMatter. You can click on a hashtag to find out what other people are saying about the topic. You can also inject your messages into the greater conversation by using a given hashtag.

Where can I use it?

Technically, you can use them anywhere a search engine can find them. Even placing one in a blog post (like this one) will help someone searching for the hashtag via a Google search. However, hashtag usage hasn’t quite escaped the confines of social media platforms yet. So, for social media purposes, they are most often used on multiple platforms including:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • Google+
  • Vine

When to # vs. @? (Translation: When to use a hashtag versus using the “at” symbol)

On platforms like Twitter, we tend to see some users who use a # instead of an @ to mention a company. To determine which to use, ask yourself these questions:

Are you trying to contact a specific person or company?

Use the @ with their handle to directly mention a person or company. They will receive it and be able to respond promptly.

Example: “@goelastic Your team rocks!” – Our team will receive this message and can respond back.

Do you want direct attention or are you just referencing them in a conversation?

Use a # if you’re just referencing a company but don’t want or need them to respond back.

Example: “The #goelastic team is awesome!” – We may never see it, and other people use this hashtag like this gentleman (who is not associated with our team):

Hashtags versus @ symbols

Who started the #hashtag?

Chris Messina, a former Google designer, is credited as the creator and first person to use a #hashtag on Twitter. (No, he didn’t patent the idea.) According to Business Insider, he “first proposed that Twitter use a hashtag to create ‘groups’ back in 2007. But Twitter rejected the idea.” His first tweet was simple:

Chris Messina's first hashtag tweet

How do I find out what’s trending?

Twitter tends to make this pretty easy, but there are platforms that can be purchased to help analyze this data as well. You are able to check trending topics by country and city (see below) on Twitter and join the conversation.

Twitter Trending Topics

Knowing what hashtags are already out there can help determine if you join the conversation or start a new one. It’s always best to check for your hashtag before using it; sometimes what you thought was a positive idea might be trending a lot of negative sentiment with the group of comments that have used it.

What does it take to have a trending #hashtag?

Although anyone can create a hashtag, it’s important to know not every category will be trending. Here are a few tips to help ensure your next #choice is successful.

  • Relevance – Make sure the topic is important to your followers and is something they will want to pass along. Engagement will help expand the reach and performance.
  • Audience – Without people following you who will retweet, favorite or use the hashtag on their own, your #hashtag will die soon after your tweet.
  • Timeliness – Talking about a topic that happened in the past might not be as powerful as discussing something that just happened. Tweeting during an event with a specific hashtag can let your audience know they can join in the conversation and see what other people are saying too.
  • Powerful – By creating a hashtag that resonates with your audience, you can help keep your topic trending.

Now that you have some basic knowledge on what hashtags are and how they can help your next tweet, Instagram or even Facebook post, remember to use them wisely. Don’t add 15 hashtags hoping that one sticks. Rule of thumb suggests using only two hashtags at max. We now leave you to go into the world of social and #EnjoytheHashtag!

Creative, Culture, Data, Development, Media, News, PR, Social, Strategy | 11.12.2019
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