Ahhh, hashtags. Those little footnotes which transform your delightful seaside snap into a tidal wave of jargon. “Cool” people use them sparingly, others rattle them off like a surging avalanche. But whatever side of the symbol you sit on, hashtags are really important.
Think of hashtags kind of like an index; they’re essentially an ever-updating archive of information - precisely categorised by topic or subject matter. Billions of individual hashtags exist - each stuffed fuller than a Christmas turkey with commentary, imagery, video and more - and there are zero limitations when it comes to creating them.
In many ways, hashtags are the bridge which links your content to a specific user - allowing you to safely cross and be amongst like-minded individuals, brands and businesses. Hashtags make your content, and therefore business, more visible and accessible. Oh, and if you land on a hot topic (or “trend” as the kids call it), well, take cover because your phone will BLOW UP. What’s up, newfound exposure; nice to meet ya...
Hashtags translate across all social media platforms and are used globally by pretty much all users. Better still, many brands and businesses use them as a direct way to advertise - creating an entire conversation about their product, service or event. Pretty smart, huh? All that dialogue and awareness; just for you.
So then, how exactly do hashtags work? Allow me to explain…
Well, firstly, how do you actually make a hashtag? It’s incredibly simple.
Every single hashtag starts with a # symbol. Without this, you have no hashtag. The symbol creates the link; it forms that bridge you want to safely cross.
The symbol is then followed by a word, or several words, without any spaces or punctuation. So, for example, let’s say I wanted to promote “Manufacturing in the UK” with a hashtag, I’d write #UKManufacturing or #ManufacturingUK.
Multiple variants of the same/similar things can be useful, as not every user is going to use the exact same hashtag to be part of a conversation. This has been particularly prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hashtags such as #COVID19, #Coronavirus, #COVID19UK and more have all been used to essentially reach the same destination.
The “best” hashtags are short and easy to remember, like #COVID19, or #WeatherUK. The simpler, the more relatable and accessible. The more relatable, the wider the audience.
As well as being able to access a seemingly endless array of information via hashtags, you can also find new people who’ll become attracted to your business.
A direct byproduct of hashtag use is exposure - your content is more widely accessible by using them - and from that exposure comes increased opportunities to grow your social media presence.
Many people will “follow” specific hashtags of interest to them (say #UKManufacturing). When they see content appear on this hashtag thread, they will be more inclined to “follow” your company social page or profile. It’s all wrapped up in the DNA of social media communication.
Best of all, the more frequently you use a specific hashtag, the more your content will appear on its associated thread - giving you more authority on that topic, and further increasing your opportunities to gain followers.
So this all sounds super easy and great, but there are some key things to consider. I mean, just because you use a hashtag does not mean social success. Here’s why...
The biggest problem with hashtag use is, well, that it’s really popular. I know, that’s kinda confusing but hear me out. When using a hashtag - whether that’s a pre-existing one, or your very own - you need to be mindful of how saturated that particular market is. Hashtag use is very much a balancing act.
To go back to the index reference, if you were seeking travel advice for your trip to Florida, you might consider posting with #Travel. The trouble is, hashtags like this have millions and millions of results; meaning your post will simply disappear into oblivion. Gone without a trace. At the time of writing, #Travel has over 534 MILLION uses on Instagram alone.
Now let’s say you went a little more direct and posted with #FloridaTravel (which has 87 thousand uses on Instagram). Yes, it’s significantly less popular than #Travel, but your post and consequently the results will endure a longer period of time on the thread (or the index page).
This is important because the more monopoly you have here, the more influence your content demands. It means those browsing are more inclined to connect and engage with you, as opposed to God knows how many other millions of social accounts.
But this being a balancing act, it’s important to not be too niche either. So basically not too popular and not too niche. Simple right?
What I mean by this is opt for #FloridaTravel rather than say #TravelToFloridaFromUK. You need a space where there is an audience, or at least a space where it is possible to start building one without too many obstacles.
When it comes to creating your very own hashtag, it’s important to be as simplistic as possible in your wording and structuring, but equally important to not ride massively trending terms too closely. If you’re a plumber, consider being more akin to #PlumbingSolutions (15 thousand on Instagram) rather than the bog-standard #Plumbing (1.5 million on Instagram). And yes, the pun was intended.
Whatever hashtag or hashtags you opt for, they will be rendered into significance if the content they’re paired to is poor. At the end of the day, people on social media will engage with you and your business if they like your stuff. If they don’t, they won’t. That part really is simple.
Content is king when it comes to social media - everything else is entirely secondary. Hashtags, marketing and promotions, software updates, technological advances; they are all pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
People use social media because they want to interact and share with those like-minded. If your business and your content ticks their boxes and fulfils their need, or answers their question, they will follow you and maybe even become a customer.
Hashtags can be a fantastic way to drive a specific campaign and message, but it’s the content that will get the user excited and engaged. Structure your hashtag around the material and messages you want to share, rather than the other way round.
And remember, the hashtag is only the bridge to your audience. The wood and rope - your bridge’s building blocks - is your content. Together, they will bring you and your business closer to online communities than ever before.