How to Use Hashtags and Grow Your Reach on Every Social Network

Hashtags appear to be one of those things that social media users either love or hate. Some swear by their use, inserting multiple hashtags into every post. Others avoid them completely. Then there are many people who may have heard of hashtags but have no real idea of how they should use them.

Technically, a hashtag is just a word or phrase preceded by the #-symbol. The word or phrase would generally be some keyword or term that interests a range of people.

Hashtags make it easier for you to discover social media posts relating to a particular subject. For example, if you search in Instagram for #Christmas, you will find all recent Instagram posts that people have made and tagged as being about Christmas.

Social networks use hashtags to help index posts. Therefore, for example, all posts that include the #Christmas tag will become one group. Of course, this can only happen if people accurately add hashtags to their posts and don’t include irrelevant or misleading hashtags. Likewise, posts without hashtags don’t get included in the results of any hashtag searches.

However, incorrect usage of hashtags can actually harm your social media engagement. Nobody wants to read a wall of hashtags – particularly in something like a tweet with a 280-character limit. There is a fine balance between using too few hashtags (thereby not helping people by categorizing your post topics) and using too many hashtags, turning people off a wall of text.

How to Use Hashtags:

Hashtag Essentials

Probably the most important thing to understand about hashtags is that they help you better organize content. They act as a way that you can group social media posts that relate to similar content topics. Although not all social networks are equally set up to deal intelligently with hashtags, they all allow some type of content sorting and filtering.

They are the social media equivalent to tags on a website – you do know that the purpose of website tags is to group similar types of content, don’t you?

They are particularly useful for people searching for new content – usually from those they’re not already friends with. Hashtags are helpful in finding people who post on similar topics to yourself.

When it comes down to it, you need to return to the goals you set when you set up your social media accounts. Who is the target audience for your social posts? You need to think about your target audience’s minds. What hashtags will they search for? There is little point using hashtags that the types of people you want to follow you will never use.

Hashtags are not a one size fits all item. You have to adapt your hashtag usage to meet the needs of your target audience.

Trending Hashtags

Anybody can make a hashtag. This means that there are many irrelevant, useless hashtags. However, there are also popular hashtags, regularly used. These can sometimes be seasonal or short-term. There are also evergreen hashtags that people use and search for regularly.

The most used hashtags at any moment in time are known as Trending Hashtags. Twitter even includes a list of trending hashtags on each user’s page, and you can easily find Trending Hashtags on Instagram. These change regularly, depending on the current topics of conversation.

However, the social networks are intelligent enough to compile a customized list of trending hashtags for each user. They select popular hashtags on subjects likely to interest a user.

Special Types of Hashtags

Although most hashtags are merely a way to classify a post’s content, there are a few particular types of hashtag, created for a specific purpose.

  1. Brand Hashtags

One of the ultimate marketing goals of a brand is to develop an original hashtag that people willingly share. Many of the big name brands, such as Coca-Cola have succeeded with this. Often fans take pictures of themselves drinking a Coke and then share it using the brand’s hashtag.

Of course, brands sometimes need to find a way to develop a hashtag that doesn’t sound too promotional. So, for instance, the most prominent brand hashtag for Coca-Cola isn’t #cocacola, but #shareacoke.

  1. Campaign Hashtags

A variation of the brand hashtag is the campaign hashtag. This is where a brand or its marketing team creates a custom hashtag for a specific marketing campaign.

They’re effectively short-term brand hashtags. They will usually only have a short life, but if successful, they may be used many times.

In some cases, a campaign hashtag simply promotes a brand’s current product. For instance, when Samsung Galaxy S8s were king, Samsung actively encouraged the #GalaxyS8 hashtag. Now the (admittedly long) hashtag #SamsungGalaxyEdge is popular.

Many of the influencer and content marketing campaign winners in competitions such as the Shorty Awards are successful because of widespread usage of campaign hashtags.

It is essential that your campaign hashtags are relatively original and unique to your brand. If you select too generic a phrase as a campaign hashtag, your campaign posts will disappear amidst all of the other posts using the hashtag.

  1. Category Hashtags

Category hashtags are really just regular hashtags that correctly indicate the main topics of a post. You use category hashtags to succinctly summarize what a post is about.

For instance, if you upload a picture of a fit person running the Boston Marathon, you could include #fitness, #Boston, and #Marathon as category hashtags.

You don’t go granular with category hashtags, however. The best category hashtags cover relatively large generic topics and don’t include brands or events.

Although category hashtags may seem tedious, they’re vital for creating a structure for your posts, and these posts remain visible far longer than those with just trending hashtags do.

  1. Event Hashtags

Event Hashtags relate to specific events. For instance, in the case of the Boston Marathon runner, a suitable event hashtag would be #bostonmarathon.

These can be very useful, particularly for popular events. It means that social searchers can group all posts relating to an event.

Things to Avoid With Hashtags

If you are one of the 75% of social media users who use hashtags, there are a few basic rules you should follow, regardless of which social network you prefer.

Firstly, don’t include spaces in your hashtags – the social network will ignore anything after the first space. This means that you need to run words together. Capitalization doesn’t affect hashtags; so many people find it easier to capitalize the first letter of each word in a hashtag. However, don’t try to include too many words – you need to create hashtags that other people will use, otherwise they will be useless for categorizing content.

One problem you may face with running words together as hashtags, particularly if people don’t capitalize the individual words, is that you might create unintended and embarrassing letter combinations. Some of the worst hashtags businesses have used include:

  • #RIMJobs – as used by Research in Motion when advertising for workers on Twitter
  • #susanalbumparty – as used by singer Susan Boyle
  • #CLitFest – as used by Cambridge Literacy Festival on Twitter

In other cases, a hashtag itself isn’t wrong, but people misuse it. For instance, McDonald's encouraged people to tell #McDStories. The problem was that many of the stories were not very complimentary to McDonald's.

At the same time, don’t hashtag small filler words. Nobody will search for a list of posts containing #the or #and.

Also, remember social media networks use hashtags to organize posts, nobody will thank you if you use irrelevant hashtags for a post – people will see it as an example of click-baiting.

Similarly, if you have set your posts as private, so only the sender and receiver can see the posts, there is little point in using hashtags – these won’t show up in any search results.

Remember that you can’t use the @ symbol or any other form of special punctuation in a hashtag, Restrict yourself to letters and numbers. If you do try to use an @ symbol you merely tag the person named after the @ symbol.

How to Use Hashtags on Twitter

Hashtags began on Twitter, and they now have a long and successful heritage there. The first use of a hashtag is credited to @chrismessina in August 2007: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”

You do need to limit your category choices on Twitter. Twitter is, after all, about brevity. The most successful tweets only include one or two hashtags (and that is despite the doubling of Twitter’s allowable characters last year.

A special use for hashtags in Twitter is in Twitter Chats. You need to use the appropriate hashtags for a particular conversation if you wish to participate.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

We have previously analyzed how to use hashtags on Instagram in detail. Hashtag usage has flourished on Instagram where users have discovered how easy it is to use hashtags to sort images and videos by content category.

You can actually use up to 30 hashtags in an Instagram post. One of the reasons that people can get away with using more hashtags here, is because the posts are inherently visual. The post’s image takes priority over hashtags used. Even if somebody used his or her full quota, it wouldn’t take away from the merit of the image posted. It would simply lead to an unreadable comment.

However, even Instagram users limit their acceptance of hashtags. While posts with about nine or ten hashtags perform best, support drops if you use more hashtags.

A recent innovation on Instagram means that you can now include clickable hashtags in your bio. You can also add hashtags to your Instagram Stories that are searchable...

How to use Hashtags on Facebook

In some ways Facebook is similar to Twitter – the fewer the hashtags you use, he better your engagements will be. However, many Facebook users never use hashtags. They have never really taken off in popularity on the world’s largest social network. Data suggests that hashtags do nothing to improve engagement on Facebook.

If you do use hashtags on Facebook, limit yourself to 1-2 hashtags that are highly relevant to your post.

How to Use Hashtags on YouTube

Although YouTube may not seem an instinctive place to use hashtags, people regularly place them in the comments sections below videos. If somebody clicks on a hashtag, he or she will be directed to a special page with a list of videos that use that hashtag.


How to Use Hashtags on Pinterest

Pinterest, like Instagram, is highly visual. Therefore, hashtags provide a useful means of cataloguing your images. However, Pinterest users are not as accepting of hashtags as those on Instagram – limit yourself to the 2-3 hashtags that best describe your picture.

Pinterest allows you to click through hashtags to find similar types of content. Of course, that assumes that people correctly hashtag their pins.

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.