People have been using the # symbol for technology for years, and, before Twitter, its most visible usage was in chat servers to represent a specific topic or group. In the interest of full disclosure, I was someone who used #marchingband for chat rooms before I ever got a Twitter account. This line of thinking led Chris Messina from Google to suggest using it to group Tweets together by topic. The suggestion caught on among Twitter’s early adopters, and experiences like “#AmazonFail” grew to become part of the early Twitter experience. Then, Charlie Sheen decided he was “#winning,” and everything exploded.
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit AND The Well of Loneliness both lose their Amazon ranking? Complete and utter #amazonfail http://bit.ly/JoVF
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) April 12, 2009
The Big 4 of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn) all support hashtags in their posting as a means to allow people to focus on specific topics and conversations, as well as tracking the most popular posts of the day. It has become mainstream – you see hashtags with TV shows, sports, concerts, books, and political events.
It can be tempting to just start throwing them in everything you do, but let’s take a second to think a little deeper about it. Like any tool, knowing the best ways and situations to use hashtags can turn a novelty into a necessity. Here are four Do’s for using hashtags, and four Don’ts so you can know how to navigate through them.
4 Hashtag Do’s
Do look for ways to incorporate hashtags into your Twitter strategy.
Twitter is both the birthplace of the modern hashtag and where it is still king. Tweets that relate to a specific topic or conversation should use relevant hashtags. Monitoring established tags can play a crucial role in how you react to your audience.
Do use hashtags on Instagram.
A study by Dan Zarrella at Hubspot has shown that hashtags make a difference in the number of likes and shares, and certain specific ones do better than others. Avoid using #repost, however, because Zarrella proposes that it will turn people away from interacting with you.
Do practice discretion.
While you can use as many hashtags as you can fit, it’s best to limit it to one or two. This way, your message remains clear and your content shines through.
Do have realistic expectations for branded hashtags.
If you want to invent a hashtag for your brand or for a specific topic, feel free, but do not assume success. Many brands have started hashtags and seen them blow up right in their faces. It can be a good way to organize your social media efforts, but make sure it’s appropriate for your brand and also something your audience will embrace and promote.
4 Hashtag Don’ts
Don’t use hashtags if they don’t fit the platform.
While you can use hashtags on Facebook and Google+, those networks screen for trends and conversations based on the content you are sharing. These networks aren’t used the way Twitter is, so avoid using them in mid-sentence like Twitter.
Don’t use a hashtag without seeing what you’re attaching to your account.
Look before you leap, in case you accidentally land in something that has nothing to do with your company or culture.
Don’t be humorous just for the sake of being humorous if it doesn’t represent who you are.
If you wouldn’t use #yoloswag with a potential client, why are you thinking about using it in your social media?
Don’t hijack someone else’s conversation.
If a hashtag you want to use already has a following, respect the community. The goal of a hashtag is to connect interested people, and interrupting someone else’s conversation is bad manners.
Whether you’re using them for a TweetChat, joining in with fans of your favorite sports team, or participating in a worldwide joke, hashtags are a versatile tool for both fun and serious communication. Using them well can inject your accounts into a larger community, and that community can in turn become more invested in you.