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Hashtags, and How You Should Really Use Them

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grumpy_cat_hashtag.jpgAs with everything, there is a right way, and a wrong way to do things. The same goes for hashtags. Hashtags can be an extremely powerful tool if you use them correctly. On the other hand, they can make you look, well, like an annoying idiot.

This little symbol has infiltrated the web, no doubt. And we admit, it’s quite catchy. You can find relevant content for a specific topic by clicking on a hashtag. You can optimize social conversations with hashtags. You find people with similar interests with hashtags. And better yet, people can find you. Creating the right hashtag can expand your social media reach and attract potential followers, fans and customers, if you are a business.

What is the hashtag?

Anyone who even has a passing presence online has become aware of the ubiquitous nature of the “hashtag.” 2013 was no doubt the #yearofthehashtag. If you’ve been taking a hiatus from technology the past few years, we’ll fill you in.

A hashtag, which is a meta tag, is a phrase or word preceded by the pound or hash symbol (#). Putting a # in front of a word or phrase allows others to click it. People include hashtags in their social media posts to make their content accessible to others.

For example, if you have written a blog about content marketing and blasted it on your social media platforms, a relevant, correct use of a hashtag in a post would be #contentmarketing. If you really want to get snazzy, you could make it #contentmarketingtrends2014. This hashtag makes sense and it’s something people would click on.

If you are using a hashtag in a personal post rather than a business one, and you love to ride bikes, for example, a good hashtag would be #bikelife. You can even put more than one in a post, like #wearyourhelmet. However, please refrain from hashtags of the long, sentence-like nature, i.e. #sundaybikeridesarethehighlightofmyweek. There is just no need for that.

Why was the hashtag created?

When four techno-nerds decided to develop a site that allowed for sharing with people that were not already friends and from their ambition, Twitter was born. As a further refinement, hashtags were developed as a way of promoting content on Twitter.

When placed in front of a word, the hashtag forms an automatic link between the content in the post, and all other similar content. As such, this little pound sign now helps connect similar thoughts, promote events, form groups, etc.

The hashtag was NOT created for you to write your autobiography and put a # in front of it. 

A Hashtag How-To

To sum up what we’ve said above, we’ve outlined an easy to read Hashtag Etiquette Guide. When it comes to properly using hashtags, be sure to follow these 6 pieces of advice:

  1. At the moment, hashtags are the province of Twitter communication, but the concept has creeped into other social platforms, like Google+, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. There was a time when people were putting hashtags on social networks that had yet to accept them. We’re still trying to forget about that madness. Toward that end, when using the hashtag, oftentimes less is more.
  2. When constructing hashtags, never put too many words together in a single hashtag. As an example, when a reader sees something along the lines of #ilikepinkicecreamethatasteslikeoragneicecream...they will not be in any hurry to jump into that ugly mess.
  3. Just as you shouldn’t place too many words in a single hashtag, neither should you place too many hashtags into a single Tweet or post. Generally speaking, one or two hashtags in a post is perfectly acceptable, but more than that becomes a challenge for the reader. Nobody wants to read a sentence comprised entirely of clickable blue words.
  4. Mix up what you decide to hashtag. Never hashtag the same thing every time because you will quickly shed any followers you managed to attract in the first place. If you are branding your site with a specific brand name or catchphrase, they will quickly grow tiresome to your readers.
  5. Don’t fear the unknown, and make sure that you do not NOT use hashtags for fear of their improper usage.
  6. You can't put any spaces or punctuation in your hashtag. Otherwise it will break the link.

In summary, make your hashtags count, and don’t be this person:

It would been wrong of us sign off without referring to the infamous Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon hashtag skit.

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photo credit: Scott Beale via photopin cc

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