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Hashtags 101: What They Are and How To Use Them

Do you remember the very first time you heard the term “Hashtag?”

Nowadays, if you are even slightly aware of social media, then you know what a hashtag is. Not only have they become a key component for getting your marketing message out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, but the word has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary! 

But there are still countless people out there who, while they know what hashtags are, don’t actually know what they do. Well, here is a quick primer that will explain everything you need to know about hashtags and why they are so useful for social media marketing!

The History of Hashtags

It wasn’t too long ago when the word hashtag meant absolutely nothing. It was a nonsense word. A “hash” was another word for a pound (#) sign, but that was it. 

Way back in the 80s (an eternity in technology terms), hashes were used within IRC (an internet relay chat) to label specific topics and groups. If a group were available across the entire IRC network, then a # would be used so people could get to it. But still, this wasn’t called a “hashtag,” and it did not yet have widespread use outside of a particular tech community.

All of that changed with the advent of, who else, Twitter! Back when Twitter was first founded in 2006, there was no effective or universally accepted way to tag topics of interest. Posting on Twitter was like yelling out into the wilderness. If there were other people around (your followers), they might hear you and want to know what you were talking about. But trying to find new people to follow or interesting content was extremely difficult. Enter a gentleman named Chris Messina.

Chris is a software engineer who was well-versed in IRC etiquette. He realized that those who weren’t particularly tech-savvy had trouble finding certain kinds of content on Twitter. Therefore, he saw hashes as a way to organize information in a searchable format. Here was his tweet…

And thus was born the very first hashtag: #barcamp. What did it mean? Honestly, that doesn’t matter (feel free to go down that Twitter rabbit hole with the tweet above!)

What’s absolutely hilarious about hashtags is that, even after Chris’ tweet, they weren’t formally adopted by Twitter. Such is the beauty of social media: people discovering ways to use platforms in ways that the owners couldn’t foresee. The development of hashtags was a completely organic innovation that came out of user engagement. After hashtags were used constantly during the 2007 San Diego forest fires in Southern California, they quickly became popular for just about everything else.

Finally, there was a way to share specific content with everyone. If you went looking for a hashtag of a subject, bam, you’d see everything that you wanted. It was a revelation and laid much of the foundation for the success that Twitter (and other platforms) see today. 

How Are Hashtags Used Today?

Generally, hashtags are used in social media posts to specify that certain posts are about specific topics. In other words, if you owned a coaching business, you would want your social media posts to contain the hashtag #coaching. This helps those posts be indexed by the social media service, making it much easier for people to search for them (and your account). 

If you post on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram without a hashtag, chances are that only your followers are going to end up seeing it. But when you add a relevant hashtag, it vastly extends the reach of that post. Suddenly, it has the potential of reaching thousands of people who are interested in whatever topic your hashtag specifies.

The Art of Using Hashtags

Ah, but here is the problem with using hashtags. If you choose something incredibly general, then your post will still likely be crowded by others who are tweeting about the same thing. For example, if you are eating ice cream and tweet out a message with #icecream, you’re going to be competing with everyone else who has tweeted about ice cream over the last few hours. And there is likely to be a lot of them!

This is why it’s vital to a) use several relevant hashtags for every post, and b) use more interesting hashtags that will catch people’s attention. For example, instead of #icecream, how about #frozentreats? Or #rockyroad. 

Also, while the function of hashtags is essentially the same across social media networks, their use varies significantly. Learning the difference is all part of knowing how to maximize your digital marketing potential. Even with Twitter’s boost in tweet length, you still only have 280 characters to play with. Do you really want to spend more than half of them on hashtags? Thus, writing an amazing Twitter post becomes finding a balance between the content and the hashtags, so people will be able to find them.

On platforms like Instagram, on the other hand, you can go completely bananas with hashtags if you want! You can include up to 30 hashtags per post. However, you need to be careful about this strategy as it can look very “spammy.” It’s better to figure out a cocktail of the best possible hashtags for your post, then use a more reasonable number of them. 

The concept of hashtags is simple, but their execution can be tricky. You can’t just put #thebestpost after every one of your social media posts and hope that people will start to follow you. If you want people to be able to find your blog posts or other content on social media, this is a skill you need to develop. But building an excellent hashtag game requires lots of research, time, and trial & error. If you want to get a jumpstart on making the most out of your social media, I highly suggest you check out my free workbook on the subject!

But if the idea of spending hours figuring out which hashtags will get you the best engagement gives you a headache, I can always do that part for you! And, of course, there is much more that goes into your social media marketing than just hashtags. You also have to consider the social media graphics and copy that goes into creating an amazing Facebook post (or whichever social media network you are using). If you contact me today we can get started building a comprehensive social media marketing strategy that includes relevant hashtags that will get you followers who discover your posts! And if you feel a bit uncertain about what you’re putting up online, I’d be delighted to give you a social media audit so you know where you might need to shore up on your social media content!

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About Jennie Lyon

Jennie Lyon is the founder of Jennie Lyon Virtual Assistant Services. Jennie specializes in helping busy entrepreneurs organize, manage, develop and promote their brand! She is devoted to helping small business owners and entrepreneurs with social media, content creation, email marketing, client relations, website management, and administration services. If you are a small business owner, coach or self-employed entrepreneur struggling to find enough time in your day to focus on what you really love - schedule a free 15 minute consultation with Jennie. www.JennieLyon.com

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