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After many years working in marketing and advertising I have learned that the big concepts driving these disciplines have not changed much but a lot of the little details in implementation are totally different. One of my biggest challenges is the smallest detail of them all. Hashtags. I always have to remind myself to use that one character “pound sign”, because when it comes to hashtags I am admittedly a late adapter. If you are humming, “… strolling down the avenue” right now you just may be in the same boat.

So what is a hashtag, and how and when is it used?

A hashtag is used for searching practically anything on most social media platforms. The word(s) that follow the # symbol can be a company name, brand name, event name or identifying abbreviation, a keyword or even a unique term used to start a conversation or promote a product. When using more than one word in your hashtag do not put spaces in between them.

Let’s say you own a shoe store and you sell Nike. Some of the hashtags you might use are #Nike, #NikeSale, #AirJordan, #WeLoveNike, #JustDoIt, #NikeGivaway, #CrossFit #NameOfYourStore and so on. How to use these hashtags really depends upon the platform.

Twitter

Hashtags were born on Twitter. They gained tremendous popularity as a way to search for information in real time, and from actual witnesses. A good example is the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Traditional news sources may have had trouble reporting due to censorship or the inability to get to the scene, but searching on Twitter for #Egypt resulted in hundreds of observations from folks on the ground.

These days hashtags are a must for businesses, and Twitter makes it much easier for a consumer to find exactly what they are looking for. Putting #Nike in the search bar brings up a page of options that include Live tweets, accounts with the word Nike in them, photos and videos and the most popular, this is retweeted and liked, tweets. For the most part, you won’t see more than three or four hashtags in a tweet, which is probably due to the character limitation on Twitter.

Let me take a detour here for a short discussion about trending topics. Twitter provides a list of the most popular current trends and how many tweets they are receiving. If a topic is relevant to your tweet you should absolutely use it as a hashtag in your tweet. If it is NOT, under no circumstances should you use the #trend – it is considered to be spam, turns people off, and may cost you some followers. You don’t want that, do you? On the other hand, if you can construct a tweet that comfortably incorporates your message with a trending topic by all means use the #trend.

Facebook

While a bit late to the party, hashtags are now quite popular – and in some cases quite overused – on Facebook. When you see a post with little content but a lot of hashtags you know that person is probably fishing for traffic more than attempting to provide useful content. This is not looked upon favorably.

When you do a search for #Nike on Facebook the first results will be any posts or mentions among the reader’s friends or groups they have joined. Then “Top” public posts appear in order of popularity, almost invariably with a great photo or video. Then you have the option of choosing additional search criteria such as People, Pages, Events, Apps, etc.

Instagram

On this popular photoblogging site hashtags are used extensively. The most important thing to remember is never use hashtags in the title of your post; always put your hashtags in the first comment below the photo. My partner Sara has a most excellent article on Instagram where you can learn much more.

YouTube

Hashtags are used minimally on YouTube, both in the video titles and descriptions. A search for #Nike brings up all videos that use the word, with or without the #, and in no particular order that I can discern.

Pinterest

Another site where hashtags are used sparingly by posters is Pinterest. A search for #Nike brings up all references to the brand, whether a hashtag is used or not. The pins that appear seem to in order of most popular, either due to the number of repins or the account itself. Pinterest also allows searches to be refined with choices such as (Nike) Shoes, Clothes, Outfits, etc.

LinkedIn

Hashtags are almost nonexistent on LinkedIn. The only people using them are either in marketing and social media, or they’ve copied and pasted a tweet or Facebook post and left the hashtags in. A search for #Nike brings up companies or divisions of companies named Nike, or people whose names have the word NIKE in them. My favorite of those is Nike than Nagula Raja.

Google+

If you are looking for additional hashtags related to the one you are using, Google+ provides a list of helpful #suggestions. A search for #Nike results in every post that includes the word, with or without a hashtag, in chronological order.

Every marketer and company dreams of launching a campaign that goes viral and brings in tons of leads and sales as a result. Creating a unique hashtag that takes off is just another tool with which you might be able to achieve that goal. With that in mind, I hereby present my personal hashtag in the hope that I can accurately convey my appreciation to anyone who made it to the end of this article:

#ThankYouForReading