*Updated May 11, 2023
Hashtags are a crucial aspect of social media that have been around since 2007. That’s right—hashtags are old enough to drive at this point. They help you connect with your target audience, expand your reach, and boost engagement.
However, while they’ve existed for a decade and a half, many small and mid-sized businesses don’t know how to use hashtags effectively in a social marketing strategy. The problem is that using hashtags incorrectly can backfire and hurt your online presence.
To help these businesses improve their social media approach, we’re talking about hashtags: how they work, what their purpose is, and how you can use them to optimize your content.
3 Hashtag Myths
When hashtags were first introduced to the world, companies didn’t know how to use them effectively. In fact, most people didn’t fully understand how social media algorithms use hashtags to make your content more discoverable.
That misunderstanding bred many myths that are still highly prevalent—some people today consider still consider them to be gospel truth. Here are three well-circulated myths we want to debunk once and for all.
Myth #1: Hashtags Can Make Your Content Go Viral
Some people falsely assume that the right combinations of hashtags can turn their content into viral sensations.
This is not true.
Hashtags have the power to display your content to the world, but they are not a fast-pass to going viral. You can’t produce half-baked content and expect your hashtags to do the rest of the work. If you want to go viral, you need incredibly engaging and useful content (we’ll explain how to do that a little later in this article) and a heavy dose of luck.
Myth #2: Popular Hashtags = More Customers
There is some sound logic to the myth that hashtags allow your posts to be seen on discovery pages by people who don’t follow your account. Therefore, if your content is more discoverable by your audience, that means you can gain more followers, right?
Hashtags do make it easier for potential customers to find your content and discover your brand. In fact, research shows that companies can enjoy 29% more post interactions when their posts have just one hashtag (and interactions increase to 79% with 11 or more hashtags).
You’ll find that increased engagement is all that hashtags can offer—there is no significant proof to suggest hashtags can help you gain more customers or increase sales. Therefore, hashtags should not be your primary tool to capture new leads.
Myth #3: Using the Same Hashtags Over and Over Can Penalize Your Content
Another fairly popular myth floating around is that you need to diversify your hashtags so you don’t get flagged and penalized by social media sites as spam.
A quick look at any big brand’s social media account can quickly debunk this myth. Many popular brands like Apple and Nike recycle the same hashtag or set of hashtags over and over again. Their engagement clearly isn’t penalized in any way, and neither will yours.
How Do Hashtags Really Work?
Now that we’ve gotten those hashtag myths out of our system, it’s time for the good stuff: how to use hashtags effectively in your social strategy. We’ve outlined some essential tips to help you better use hashtags to improve the shareability of your posts the right way.
Good Strategy + Good Content = Virality
Of the many problems behind businesses’ social media approaches, a bad strategy can do the most damage.
If you want to go viral, you had better start with a solid strategy that helps you produce valuable content. But before you get too excited about this simple equation, know that the math isn’t perfect. Simply having a good strategy and great content does not guarantee high levels of engagement on social media. But, if you are persistent and consistent, you can certainly improve your chances of going viral.
Developing a Flawless Content Marketing Strategy
To create a high-quality content strategy, you must first know your audience and your company’s mission and goals. That means asking yourself these kinds of questions:
- What value does my content offer?
- Who am I trying to reach with my content?
- What do I want my audience to do after they’ve read my content?
While there are many more variables to creating a flawless content marketing strategy, these questions can at least lead you in the right direction.
Creating Engaging Content
After establishing who you’re talking to and what you’re trying to inspire, you’re ready to create your content. While there are hundreds of ways to create unique and informative social media content that engages and informs your audience, here are just a few ideas to spark some inspiration in your noggin:
- Make it shareable: Your followers will want to share your content if it can solve a problem in people’s lives or if it triggers positive emotions.
- Focus on visuals: Especially when you’re posting on Instagram, you need an image or video that grabs attention. Once you’ve drawn that attention, you can direct them to a link or an informative caption.
- Be unique: Your customers will want to follow you if you offer a unique perspective or stand out from the crowd. If you just try to replicate what other brands are doing, those customers might as well follow them instead.
Boost Your Content with Hashtags
Now that you have content worth sharing, you’re ready to post and promote. And as we’ve learned, hashtags can make your engagement skyrocket. When used in conjunction with outstanding and shareable content, hashtags can turn your social posts into lasting impressions.
Focus on Hashtag Relevance, Not Volume
If hashtags aren’t what make viral content, why use them at all? Because they help you get discovered.
The goal of using hashtags is to get interested leads viewing your content—you don’t want just any pair of eyeballs. You want hashtags that can help you narrow in on your audience and gauge their interest in your products.
To do this, you can’t indiscriminately throw hashtags onto your posts because they seem related; it’s time to do some research. Here are some methods and tools you can use to optimize your hashtags.
Research Your Competitors
It’s time to stalk the competition. Look at posts from major brands in your industry and influencers who promote similar products. Take a look at their hashtags, how many they use, and how frequently they use the same ones. This approach will give you a rough idea of how your competition engages with its audience and how you can start to do the same.
Find Trending Hashtags
Once you have a good idea of what kind of hashtags to use, it’s time to trim those down to trending keywords. The following programs can help you track which hashtags are trending and help you decide which ones to target:
- Hashtagify – Shows popular hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.
- RiteTag – Finds popular hashtag suggestions for your images.
- Trendsmap – Organizes popular hashtags based on geographic location.
Use Hashtags That Were Successful in the Past
After you target trending hashtags for a while, you should review which brought the most engagement. We recommend creating a list of these high-performing hashtags so you can easily recycle them whenever you create relevant content.
Hashtags and Different Social Networks
Now that you know how to use hashtags effectively, let’s talk about how to use hashtags on different social media platforms.
How to Use Hashtags on Instagram
Instagram is the most popular platform for using hashtags. Here are some tips on how to use hashtags on Instagram.
The Optimal Number of Hashtags to Use
Using 5–9 hashtags is ideal for Instagram. You can use up to 30 hashtags per post, but using too many can come across as spammy and hurt your engagement.
Understanding the Explore Page
The Explore page on Instagram shows you content based on your interests and engagement. Using relevant hashtags on your posts can help you get discovered on the Explore page and increase your reach.
Using Hashtags in Stories and Highlights
You can use relevant hashtags in your Instagram stories and highlights to increase visibility. As long as you’re using them appropriately, there’s no reason to miss an opportunity.
How to Use Hashtags on Facebook
Facebook is another popular platform for hashtags.
The Optimal Number of Hashtags to Use
Using one or two hashtags per post is ideal for Facebook. Using too many hashtags can hurt your reach and engagement.
How to Use Hashtags in Facebook Groups
Facebook groups are an excellent way to connect with like-minded people and increase engagement. Use relevant hashtags when posting in Facebook groups to further narrow down the audience likely to be interested..
How to Use Hashtags on TikTok
TikTok has been taking the short video world by storm, and hashtags can help you cut through the noise (and the newest dance moves)..
Use Trending Hashtags
TikTok is all about trends, so use relevant trending hashtags in your videos to increase your reach and visibility.
Create a Branded Hashtag Challenge
Creating a branded hashtag challenge is an excellent way to increase engagement and brand awareness. Encourage your followers to participate in your challenge and use your branded hashtag.
How to Use Hashtags on Twitter
The home of the modern hashtag, Twitter is a platform known for its fast-paced, real-time conversations.
The Optimal Number of Hashtags to Use
It’s recommended to use no more than two hashtags per tweet. Using too many seems spammy and hurts your engagement.
Use Hashtags in Your Bio
You can use hashtags in your Twitter bio to increase visibility and help people discover your profile.
3 Hashtag Practices to Avoid
Now that you know how to use hashtags effectively on different social media platforms, let’s talk about some shady hashtag practices to avoid.
1. Avoid Using Irrelevant Hashtags
Irrelevant hashtags don’t fool anyone—at best, they get you an eyeroll; at worst, they can hurt your brand’s image in the eyes of savvy social media users.. Only use hashtags that are relevant to your content.
2. Avoid Using Banned Hashtags
Using banned hashtags can hurt your reach and even get your account suspended. Research which hashtags are banned on different social media platforms and avoid using them. Common sense may not help here. Instagram has, at times, banned seemingly innocuous hashtags like #besties and #valentinesday.
3. Avoid Using Hashtag Automation
Hashtag automation tools may seem like a valuable shortcut, but it’s often easier for humans to tell where the line is and to evaluate whether a hashtag is appropriate. It’s better to take the time to research and use relevant hashtags manually.
Think Beyond Hashtags
We don’t want your content strategy to be bogged down by hashtags. While they’re important tools to boost engagement, we want to help you refocus on what really matters: powerful content.
In 2020, we helped Instant Tax Solutions increase their Facebook followers by over 214%, thanks to a regular content posting schedule and a comprehensive Page Likes campaign. This resulted in over 2000 visits to the landing page.
At Big Leap, we specialize in holistic social media marketing solutions so you can see better results in a shorter amount of time. Contact our social team to find out how we can help you.