Let's talk about hashtags. Yes, the elusive hashtag. The symbol formerly known as the pound sign left unused on your telephone. It's now the trendiest symbol on your cell phone's keyboard. But it's not just a trend Millennials and Gen Zs use to drive the older generations crazy. There's a purpose in using the hash sign before a catchy phrase or word.
History of hashtags
Hashtags began as a way to index keywords or phrases that were searchable on Twitter. Their purpose has remained the same in organizing ideas, but have added value in promoting and drawing attention to whatever the hashtag is referencing. Hashtags make following ideas and conversations around a word or phrase easy. Before we dive into how you can use hashtags to draw attention to your social media content, let's talk about a few rules of hashtags.
The idea is simple. A pound symbol precedes whatever word or phrase you're referencing. However, there are a few things you should know before you begin.
No spaces and punctuation
Hashtags cannot contain any spaces or punctuation. Let's say you want to hashtag the phrase "don't litter." If you include the apostrophe and space between don't and litter, your hashtag will end up looking something like this:
The blue part of the text is the only text that will be recognized as a hashtag. So instead of hashtagging "don't litter", you've actually used the hashtag "#don". Below is an example of how you would properly hashtag the phrase "don't litter". It seems silly, but it's a common mistake.
Avoid long words/phrases
Connecting too many words for a hashtag is a no-no on social media. Longer hashtags with more terms are hard to read and understand. Keep your hashtags short and simple.
#Avoid #using #hashtags #on #every #word
The key to successful hashtags is to use them as supplements to your photo and/or conversation. So don't hashtag every word of your description or conversation.
Use relevant hashtags
Hashtags should supplement whatever content you're publishing to social media. They're there to support your content and help increase engagement and exposure. Using made-up hashtags that no one has seen or searched for is a waste because it won't add exposure to your post. This is not to say you can't make up your own hashtags here and there and add them to a post that already contains relevant hashtags. Just be sure to keep the main purpose in mind which is to use hashtags to increase engagement and exposure. We'll talk more about that next.
Use branded hashtags
Create a branded hashtag and use it in every post you publish on Instagram. What do I mean by branded hashtag? A hashtag with your brand name! Here's an example: let's say your company name is Estate Sale Gals. Your branded hashtag could look something like this: #EstateSaleGals. Don't forget to add this to your bio so your followers can follow your hashtag, too!
Bottom line, hashtags should be memorable, they should make sense, and be consistent with your brand and the content you publish.
Followers love to engage with hashtags. It's one of the easiest ways to have your content discovered by new audiences. It increases your reach and allows more users to find your content. The key, though, is through the use of relevant hashtags. Using a popular hashtag that has nothing to do with your content will not help you gain new followers because it wasn't what they were looking for. You can also be penalized on Instagram for continuously using irrelevant hashtags.
What exactly do I mean by relevant? Let's say you're sharing a photo of a gorgeous antique sewing machine from your upcoming estate sale, and you want to close the description of your photo with a few hashtags. Relevant hashtags would include anything that has to do with estate sales, antique finds, sewing, and sewing machines. Here's an example of a few hashtags you might use: #estatesale, #estatesalefinds, #antiquefinds, #antiquesewingmachine, #singersewingmachine, #sewersofinstagram, etc.
You'll notice when you begin to type a hashtag, Instagram will auto-fill and suggest hashtags based on what you type. The suggested hashtags will tell you how many times the hashtag has been used. That's a good indicator that you're on the right track to have your content discovered by new audiences. It may seem best to use only hashtags that have been used hundreds of thousands or more than a million times. But I recommend using a mix of hashtags that have been used less than a hundred thousand times and more popular ones, too, to give your content a better chance of being discovered by new followers.