#Hashtags101: What, How, When and Why?

This short guide to hashtags will help you improve your online and offline game. You’re one article away from hashtagging like a pro.

What are #hashtags actually?

Those blue words with a symbol behind them might seem confusing and unnecessary to the untrained eye, but they are actually useful and a lot of fun too. Given the immense amount of content uploaded every second, #hashtags have become a blueprint of modern-day communication and it’s important to understand how to use them. Hashtags are labels to help organise and navigate through content.

Every hashtag is actually a searchable link which allows users to see what else exists on a topic and contribute to the conversation. In 2007, the founder of Twitter suggested the use of the # symbol to group conversations by topic, but it took some time for #hashtags to take off. According to #DeutscheWelle it’s due to online activists in Iran reporting from the 2009–10 election protests that hashtags became popular across the world.

Nowadays, these short descriptive labels are used on most platforms, by individuals and businesses alike, and are a great way to group topics, increase exposure and raise awareness.

How and when to use #hashtags?

In the early days, a lot of users would hashtag every word in a sentence. We’ve all been there. But, it’s already 2016 and we gotta up our game. Here’s a simple rule to help you:

#Never #Under #No #Circumstance #Ever #Do #You #Hashtag #An #Entire #Sentence.

In case you struggled to decode that, it’s because you should never under no circumstance ever hashtag an entire sentence. Why? It makes it difficult to read, no one will ever search for words like #the #an #this etc. It’s distracting and useless.

#NoSpacesAndPunctuation in your hashtags. If you want to have a series of words keep them together and capitalise the first letter to make it easy to read. Capitals don’t alter the search results and make hashtags look better.

For example, you’re having an amazing day at the beach, it’s sunny, you have a melting ice-cream in your hand, your shades and a huge smile. You have to share this otherwise it didn’t happen. So you launch either of your favourite usual suspects: instagram, facebook, twitter etc.

Good use #1: Such an amazing day at the beach. #BeachSelfie #GoodVibes #SunnySideOfLife

Good use #2: Such an #amazing day at the #beach.

There are many variations of course, but I tend to appreciate a clean caption with hashtags at the end. Embedding hashtags in the caption is useful when talking about a specific topic (movie, book, event etc) because it saves you from repeating yourself.

Wrong use #1: Such an #amazing #day #at #the #beach.

Again, don’t hashtag every word in a sentence, it’s distracting and almost useless. Even though you get some traction because of #amazing and #beach the rest just spells: rookie. Use #AmazingDayAtTheBeach instead.

Wrong use #2: Such an amazing day at the beach. #neverthoughtthiscouldbemythursday

The caption is clean, which is cool. But look how difficult it is to read that long-ass hashtag. Keep it short and capitalise first letter. You could try #SurpriseThursday instead.

Wrong use #3: Such an #amazing-day-@the-beach.

Remember that @ is used to tag other users and it cannot be used within a hashtag. No other symbols, special characters or punctuation are allowed in hashtags. Numbers are safe, though.

Another key thing is to speak in the platform’s native language, especially if you’re a brand. I learned this from @garyvee, thanks man. Check out his books, they’re amazing for demystifying social media.

Basically, facebook is for storytelling, twitter is for jumping into worldwide conversations (but it’s still an American thing, not so much in Europe) and instagram is for art. Twitter and instagram are pretty much the native platforms for hashtags, so get creative and use at ease. On instagram the more the merrier, but above 20 is probably an overkill. What I love about instagram is that the caption always stays clean and all #hashtags are grouped at the end.

Why to use #hashtags?

Because the whole online is using them and they could help you offline as well. There’s so much content out there that it becomes daunting to find even your own stuff after a while. That’ why you should:

  • Use #hashtags to label your own content so it comes up in searches
  • Use #hashtags to search for content you want to see
  • Use #hashtags to jump into a world wide (web) conversation
  • Use #hashtags to brand yourself, your business or your campaign

And yes, you can (and should) use them offline to add tags in the metadata of your pictures to facilitate sorting and navigation. Even the basic picture viewing software that comes with your machine has this option, and it’s very useful. Metadata is data about data, so adding short descriptive labels will bring up the pictures regardless of how they’re sorted into folders. Whenever you import pics to your computer tag them and it will make life easier in the future.

BONUS: How to make best use of #hashtags?

Believe it or not there are users who spend time searching for tags that interest them and using popular #hashtags can increase the chances of your post getting seen by them. So check out trending hashtags and use them to increase your exposure or contribute to a particular topic.

Create your own hashtags to show off your creativity and build personal/business branding.

What makes a good #hashtag?

  • Short but descriptive
  • Creative/unique but relevant
  • Easy to remember or spell

Your hashtag should be short and punchy, but long enough to give context. #fun is too broad and uninteresting. #BungeeFun — puts fun in a category and it gets the deserved attention.

Coming up with a unique hashtag is cool but not easy. It’s hard to find something that hasn’t been used before, and it needs to be relevant for others as well, not just yourself. However, it’s a challenge well worth the effort because it can boost your personal branding sky-high.

Lastly, even a short and creative hashtag will fail if it’s difficult to spell or remember. #supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Conclusion: these are some of the rules, feel free to break them :) There’s a thin line between mistakes | creative decisions. It’s knowing that you’re breaking the rules and doing it anyway in order to gain a desired outcome or effect. If that’s what you’re doing: #respect.

If you enjoyed this article, spread the love and recommend it to friends. You can challenge me with a topic for my next article, in the comments or on twitter @irbarbu.