The hashtag is becoming increasingly popular on most social media platforms particularly Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and Google Plus. This means that these virtual appendages Internet users tack on to keywords are here to stay, at least well into the foreseeable future. The rise of the hashtag has unlocked powerful tools for social media marketers. Understanding what they are and how to use them can be of real benefit to businesses in their online marketing activities.
This article is the preamble of a series of articles which delve into hashtags and their use in social media marketing. In this series I will try to explore the potential of hashtags in social media marketing along with a few tips and examples. Some of the challenges associated with using hashtags in online marketing will also be highlighted.
#TBT is an abbreviation of Throwback Thursday and this hashtag is used on Thursdays for pictures or posts that show activities from the past, anything from a week old to several years old. The TBT hashtag has no special function; it just makes it easier for people to reach out with their photos or posts to a larger audience on the social platforms.
Figure 1 – A #TBT picture Michele Obama posted of herself and brother on her Twitter page.
Creating and using hashtags
It is important to note that hashtags are made up. Every time the hash/pound (#) symbol is placed before a word, phrase or a group of words a hashtag is created. Spaces, commas and other punctuation marks do not work in hashtags. Group the words together even if the hashtag you are creating is a sentence. Use capitals (instead of spaces) if you want to differentiate between words as indicated in this example – Save Ayitey Powers becomes #SaveAyiteyPowers. You can also use underscores to join words in a sentence when you are creating hashtags for example #Save_Ayitey_Powers. Numbersare supported in hashtags and you can include any number(s) of your choice – #Brazil2014. Symbols and special characters (like asterisks) are however not supported.
Although you cannot prevent others from using your hashtag, it may be useful to claim a hashtag that could be integral to discussion around a trademark, promotional campaign, or event. Hashtags.org is a website which provides hashtag registration services as well as tracking of the said hashtag. Twubs.com is another site which allows you to register a hashtag. If your hashtag is centered on a promotion, then you would want others to use it as often as possible.
When using any of the social media platforms which support hashtags, anything with a # in front of it becomes hyper-linked – that means that when you click a highlighted word or image it takes you to another location where you will find a series of related pieces.
Any hashtag, if used by enough persons, can ‘trend’ as well as attract more individual users to join discussions using the hashtag. On Twitter, when a hashtag becomes extremely popular, it will appear in the ‘trending topics’ area of a user’s homepage. Trending topics appear on the lower left corner of a twitter home page.
Figure 2 – shows a list of topics which were trending in a twitter newsfeed at the time of taking the screenshot
Hashtags in Search Engines
Google has currently amplified visibility of hashtags in organic search results on Google.com as well as Google+ as demonstrated by the results of a Google search query for #ICantGoToBrazilBecause. This hashtag was recently trending on Twitter as indicated in figure 2.
Figure 3 – search results for #IcantGoToBrazilBecause
The popularity of hashtags is noticeable in mainstream popular culture, even lending their name to a new trend in rap music – hashtag rap. Hashtags are now mentioned in advertisements and TV shows, and of course, used for marketing across board.
Figure 4 – An example of the incorporation of hashtags in television. The popular TV series Scandal uses the #AskScandal to connect with its viewers worldwide.
Hashtags on the different social media platforms
As mentioned earlier, most major social media platforms support hashtags including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Google+ and Tumblr. There are similar and varied uses of the hashtag on these platforms.
Twitter: Twitter is the home of modern hashtag usage. Hashtags were first made popular by Twitter in 2007 and have since become one of social media’s great legacies. Compared to other social media sites, hashtag usage on Twitter is more diverse. Hashtags are mainly used to represent specific topics of conversation in Twitter. As stated earlier, the ‘trends’ sidebar of a Twitter feed curates a list of hashtags the account owner might be interested in, based on their tweets and location.
Facebook: in June 2013 Facebook added hashtag support, however the practice has not picked up much steam. Hashtags are newer to Facebook and clearly play a lesser role compared to Twitter (Hashtags on Facebook are not shown on the side navigation like Twitter does). Arguments are ongoing about the usefulness of hashtags on Facebook. Some experts think that Facebook is a repository of a person’s life whereas Twitter is like a thought-stream; as such not many people would be comfortable appending their lives to a trending thought. Many experts are of the opinion that, In terms of usage, hashtags are more conversation oriented and better suited for Twitter. Nevertheless, clicking on Facebook hashtags will take you to a catalogue of the most recent posts containing the same hashtag. The results are not limited to people you know. You can search for a hashtag using the search bar at the top of any Facebook page.
Instagram: Photos and videos shared on Instagram can be captioned with hashtags. When you click on a particular hashtag, you will discover the most recent content uploaded with that hashtag. Adding hashtags to your Instagram photos is a great way to be discovered and gain new followers. Some hashtags were created specifically for Instagram photo challenges — #ThrowbackThursday, for example, encourages users to post old photos. You can only tag your own posts, not other people’s photos/videos. When using Instagram, You can use up to 30 tags on a post. If you include more than 30 tags on a single photo/video, your comment will not post. To protect its users from unwanted content, Instagram has blocked specific hashtags and strings of text from being used including #Instagram.
By all means use hashtags but not too many if you are marketing and connecting with your followers on Instagram. Compare these two posts on Instagram. Figure 5 is a post from Horseman Shoes on Instagram which incorporates hashtags. Figure 6 also uses hashtags but in a less meaningful way.
Figure 5 – An Instagram post from Horseman Shoes. Hashtags are incorporated wisely to make a meaningful sentence
Figure 6 – A typical post on Instagram which arguably goes overboard with hashtags.
Vine: uses hashtags in the same way as Instagram to tag video content. Accompanying Vine videos with at least one hashtag is a great way to maximize shareability and virality of a post.
Figure 7 – A vine post which incorporates hashtags in a very good way.
Google+: On Google+, your posts are given hashtags automatically based on their content, but you can also edit them or add your own. When you click on a hashtag in Google+, the search results will include the original hashtag as well as posts with similar tags and keywords. Google search results display on the left side of the page, while hashtag results from within Google+ appear on the right. Google also gives you the option to search within Facebook or Twitter. Also unique to Google+ is the ability to add hashtags in comments as well as in a post – doubling the opportunities for your business to be found.
As mentioned earlier, hashtags are now built right into Google searches. If you type in a hashtag search, you will get the normal search results plus a sidebar of relevant Google+ posts.
To categorize, Google+ auto generates tags based on what it thinks your post is most relevant to as shown in the #Ghana example – Figure 8.
Figure 8 – An example of how hashtags are used on Google+.
Tumblr: tags function on Tumblr like Twitter hashtags, organizing posts by topic. There is a ‘tag’ section where you can enter tags. The hash symbol is however automatically inserted and words to be tagged can be separated with a comma or by hitting the enter key. Hashtags included in the main body of a post are not transformed into links. There is a feature on Tumblr which allows you to ‘track your tags’. As with the other social media platforms, tags make it easier for readers to find posts about a specific topic on the Tumblr platform. To increase the visibility of your posts, tag them with relevant tags for example, you can tag your photographs with photography or your trip posts with travel.
Figure 9 – Underneath this Tumblr posts are the relevant tags. Notice that spacing is allowed when tagging in Tumblr
Pinterest: in Pinterest, hashtags are only clickable and searchable in pin descriptions. When you click on the hashtag in a pin description, you will find yourself navigating results that contain the exact hashtag, plus pins with the same word or phrase in the description. Use Pinterest hashtags to mark and search for content and to brand your business.
Figure 10 – A pin labelled with the appropriate tags
My next article (which will be published next Monday) will examine the potential of hashtags in social media marketing including some tips on leveraging them for business.