How’s your #HashtagGame? No matter which social media platforms you’re on, knowing how and when to use hashtags can help you increase social media engagement and the reach of your brand. In this post, we’ll detail what hashtags are, why you should use them, and how different types of hashtags can give your business a boost.
What are hashtags?
A hashtag is a brief phrase, word, or acronym preceded by the pound (or “hash”) symbol (#).
Hashtag use on social media began in 2007, when web marketing specialist Chris Messina walked into Twitter’s main office and boldly suggested that the company use the pound symbol as an organizational tool to group related tweets.
Since their Twitter debut, hashtags have been adopted by nearly all major social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. They’ve also evolved into much more than just a categorization tool—these days, hashtags make content more discoverable and boost brand awareness and engagement.
Why use hashtags?
When you add hashtags to your posts, you’re essentially doing one of the following:
No matter which tactic you use, you’re making your content visible to more users, which can lead to upticks in your social media engagement through likes, shares, comments, and even new follows. Research shows that hashtags definitively increase user engagement, especially on Twitter and Instagram.
Understanding different types of hashtags and how they are typically used is key to creating an effective hashtag strategy.
Community hashtags: Joining the conversation
Community hashtags are hashtags that are currently being used in the social media space. They connect like-minded users around specific topics, issues, or subjects, and they’re a great way to join ongoing social media conversations, improve post searchability, build community, and gain followers.
For example, one of our clients, Clergy for a New Drug Policy (CNDP), often uses the hashtag #HarmReduction to join or start exchanges around this topic:
Another way to join an ongoing conversation is to create posts related to popular hashtags that are used during holidays, federal observances, and national awareness months or days.
Here’s another client example: On Grandparent’s Day, we leveraged the hashtag #GrandparentsDay to create a post for the Wisconsin Association of Family & Children's Agencies (WAFCA):
This made WAFCA’s post visible to anyone browsing or searching for the holiday hashtag on Twitter, increasing awareness of important statistics concerning grandfamilies and pointing users toward culturally-relevant supports and resources.
Here are some helpful tips for using community hashtags:
Branded hashtags and campaign hashtags: Starting the conversation
While using community hashtags can extend your reach, there’s another hashtag strategy that you can use to increase social media engagement. Unique hashtags—ones that your organization creates, rather than ones that already exist in the social space—can be a powerful promotional tool for your business.
There are two general types of unique hashtags you can create:
Branded hashtags are designed to drive brand awareness and recall. Like an advertising jingle that lodges itself in your brain, a short, sweet, and snappy branded hashtag increases the likelihood that consumers will remember your brand.
A branded hashtag can be as simple as your business name, tagline, or the name of a product or service you provide. It might also reflect your mission, vision, values, or brand identity.
Here’s a great example from one of our clients: Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation, uses the hashtag #DoingJewishDifferently across their social media channels:
This unique hashtag succinctly captures their identity and ensures memorability.
Here are some tips for using branded hashtags effectively:
Campaign hashtags are similar to branded hashtags in that they drive brand awareness, but they are connected to a campaign or call to action, asking users to engage in specific ways. They’re therefore designed for the shorter-term (e.g., a month, a year, or a season).
A campaign hashtag might start an exchange around an issue or topic important to your organization. Take the example of #NonProfitsYesYouCan, a branded hashtag we created for our client Forward Community Investments (FCI), a nonprofit providing funding and advisory support to organizations, initiatives, and coalitions that aim to reduce racial disparities and achieve social justice.
FCI leveraged #NonProfitsYesYouCan across their social media channels during the last presidential election and the subsequent midterms to spotlight election issues, resources, and actions nonprofits are legally allowed to engage in to boost political awareness and participation:
A campaign hashtag can also entice users to take other actions, like participating in a contest, a giveaway, or a fundraiser. For FCI’s Game Changer grantmaking initiative, we used the hashtag #GameChanger to promote applications and celebrate grant recipients:
Note that this post also included the branded hashtag #FCIBorrower (spotlighting organizations with FCI loans) and the Milwaukee-focused community hashtag #MKE.
When you’re creating a campaign hashtag, keep in mind that consumers typically need time and reinforcement to engage with a campaign (especially if there’s no incentive for participation). To encourage users to interact with a campaign hashtag:
Using hashtags on different social media platforms
Community hashtags, branded hashtags, and campaign hashtags can all boost your brand’s visibility—but you can take things a step further by understanding how to leverage hashtags on different social platforms. Below are some tips for hashtag use on major channels.
Using hashtags on Instagram
Successful hashtag use on Instagram helps more customers find your content. Try these tactics:
A warning, though: Don’t newsjack serious issues, or you could end up in hot water!
Using hashtags on Twitter
Similar to Instagram, Twitter hashtags boost content discovery and account growth. To maximize hashtags in your tweets:
Using hashtags on LinkedIn
Hashtags can help your organization show up in LinkedIn searches or the newsfeed. To use them effectively:
Using hashtags on Facebook
A simple tip for using Facebook hashtags? Don’t bother. Hashtags on Facebook posts don’t facilitate discovery or help anyone find related information. Many brands are starting to omit hashtags in Facebook posts and instead use emojis. If you do want to use them for consistency across all your channels (which can promote recall of your brand), try sticking to campaign or branded hashtags, and use one well-placed hashtag per post.
Whether you’re joining the social media conversation or starting it, savvy use of hashtags can ensure that your posts are seen by more people who are likely to be interested in your brand and the goods or services you offer. #GetHashtagging!
Need some #HashtagHelp? We’ll gladly work with your in-house team on social media audits and strategy. We also offer retainer-based social media management, social media advertising, and more for busy teams in need of extra hands.