In 2007, Twitter started something. A little light bulb went off in staff member Chris Messina’s head. Why not turn that weird “pound” symbol that seems to make its way onto every phone keypad into something useful?
Initially used as a means for groups to easily communicate, the humble hashtag soon morphed into something far bigger. Now it is the lifeblood of any tweet, giving people a way to easily search for certain subjects and topics, and allowing the tweeter to gain access to far more eyes than they perhaps ever thought possible.
Other social networks soon saw the value of the hashtag, and it now forms an integral part of almost every platform. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr and YouTube, all of these and more now utilize hashtags in one form or another.
And it’s this “in one form or another” aspect that can make hashtag use confusing. When exactly is it appropriate to use a hashtag on Facebook? What are the benefits of hashtagging a Pinterest Pin? What do I need to think about when tagging my Instagram-worthy sunset?
To help clear the air, here are the ins and outs of using hashtags on four of the largest social networks.
The one that started it all, over the years Twitter has taken the use of its hashtag creation to the extreme, making it an integral part of the platform.
Here are the main uses for Twitter hashtags:
- To Gain Visibility – putting a hashtag on your Tweet, particularly a trending one, will ensure that it is seen by far more than just your followership. It gives your tweet an easy way to be found.
- Tweet Chats – Messina’s original idea for hashtags is still being used, in the form of tweet chats. These are simply conversations on twitter that center around a certain hashtag. One example is #ttot (travel talk on twitter), which brings online wanderlusters together at a pre-ordained time every day.
- Event Tweeting – Using a central hashtag, event-goers can live-tweet a conference, or interact and engage with fellow guests. Tags such as #SXSW and #CannesLions can be home to a treasure-trove of information for an event.
One of the last platforms to jump aboard the hashtag express, the reach of Facebook probably makes it the most important.
While not an integral feature of Facebook, the use of hashtags on the biggest social network include:
- Trending Topics – Facebook gives users trending hashtag topics on the top right of their screen. This allows you to see what other users are searching for, which you can capitalize on, increasing visibility.
- Expanding Reach – This dot point comes with an asterisk. While certain Facebook posts may benefit from the addition of a hashtag, thanks to Facebook’s unique algorithms, others may not. Using Facebook’s analytics, this will require trial and error on your behalf to see whether a hashtag is worthwhile for certain posts.
For the minimalist platform of Instagram, hashtags are almost as important as they are for Twitter. Hashtags provide a means to explore the Instagram world, and using them wisely is vital.
- Engagement – If you post something to Instagram without a hashtag, consider it a wasted opportunity. From basics like #sunset, #travel or #dog, to cult tags like #tbt (throwback Thursday) and #firstworldproblems, you’ll have more likes, comments and views by consistently using well known and well loved hashtags.
- Exposure – And what comes with more likes, comment and views? More followers. If you play the hashtag game right, and post the funniest or most engaging content, you’ll soon find yourself with a nice little fan base.
Pinterest is a platform based around the fun of hunting for tips, tricks and ideas. It is the perfect place to capitalise on the strengths of hashtags.
- Pin Description Only – If you’re looking to use hashtags on Pinterest, you need to remember that they are only clickable when placed in a Pin description. If you put them anywhere else, they’ll just show up as plaintext.
- Get Specific – While you want to keep your hashtag open and broad on Instagram, on Pinterest, it’s the exact opposite. You want people to follow your Pin to another of your Pins, so try using a more specific hashtag, or even one that is unique to your account.
From humble beginnings, hashtags have become a fantastically flexible and valuable utility. And in the end, there’s really no “best way” to use them.
Hashtag use can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Whether you use them to build your e-business, or simply anchor your posts together, the choice is entirely up to you.