This short article demystifies hashtags. We answer your fundamental questions about their use and purpose. By the end, you’ll no longer be asking “what is a hashtag”?
Firstly, some background. According to Wikipedia, hashtags were introduced for use on Twitter in 2007 by American blogger and open source advocate, Chris Messina. He proposed using the # symbol in tweets as a way to group content and topics. That idea took off!
Hashtags are now so widely used, a Tweet or Instagram post just does not feel complete without at least one #.
What is the purpose hashtags?
Hashtags help your content to be discovered. They are most widely used on Twitter and Instagram, but also work on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media sites.
Using a hashtag in a post, like #Canberra for example, will aggregate your post with other posts that have included the same hashtag. This allows someone to use #Canberra as a means of searching for content relevant to that topic.
Social media users can also follow topics, just like we follow people or organisations. So, someone following or searching #Canberra, may not know about your organisation, but may see your post if you have included #Canberra. You are now ‘discoverable’ to people following #Canberra. They may like what you have to say about #Canberra and decide to follow you.
Hashtags and branding
In addition to jumping onto a relevant, well-used hashtag (like #Canberra) you may want to create your own, unique hashtag and encourage your followers to use it when they post about you.
For example, if you are hosting a special event or fundraising activity you want people talking about it on social media. Supporters sharing their involvement in your event on social media is a great way to build awareness and participation.
So, creating a unique hashtag like #DonateLifeWeek2020 and encouraging your followers to use it in all their social posts, will help raise the profile of your event.
It’s also a good idea to have two or three key hashtags that you use in all your social posts. These key tags will help reinforce your branding. For example, at Big Bang Social we consistently repeat our strapline in the hashtag #beheard, at the end of our social posts. And, we regularly use #socialmedia #forpurpose and #canberra where appropriate. These reinforce our brand messaging and purpose.
All of the above advice assumes your social media posts are accessible to the public. Your posts, and hashtags, will only be discoverable if they are set to “public” access. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter business accounts are automatically set to public visibility for your profile and posts. Your personal social media accounts allow you to choose the level of privacy for your account, and individual posts.
Final word on capitals
The use of capital letters in hashtags is decorative, or aimed at helping the reader. There is no difference in the discoverability of #BeHeard, #Beheard, or #beheard. People tend to use all lowercase in hashtags because it’s easier and faster. People also tend to use all capital letters in hashtags for abbreviations like #BLM (Black Lives Matter). For long word strings, capitals can help breakup the words making it easier to read. Consider what looks best for your key message and what your followers are more likely to use. There are no hard and fast rules.