Last updated: 24 February 2017
Many people reading this blog will already have a pretty fair idea of what the hashtag is and be looking for a more detailed guide on how to use it for #marketing and #fun, but for the sake of those new to social media who may be wondering why people have suddenly started adding #’s all over the place, let me explain. At its simplest, a hashtag is the symbol “#” followed by a string of characters with no spaces. Thus, #liverpoolfootballclub is a hashtag, or #londonchristmasmarkets is a hashtag, or #graphicdesign is… well, you get the picture.
The hashtag’s use in social media is to allow users to group and follow trends and conversations with a particular theme. By using a word, group of words or phrase after a hashtag, the social media user can make the theme as specific or general as he or she wants it to be. Similarly, anyone posting a comment on a social media site can increase interest by flagging up the conversation as relevant to a particular trend by inserting a hashtag. In fact, it’s difficult to see how internet based companies which operate significantly within the world of social media, ever functioned without it.
Which social media sites use them?
Short answer? All of them! The use of the hashtag was first proposed on Twitter in August 2007 and it's use quickly took off, first on Twitter, but with Facebook’s late adoption of the device in 2013, it’s now active on almost all social media sites including Google+, Instagram and many more. Interestingly, back in 2007, Twitter’s co-founder, Evan Williams, expressed the opinion that hashtags were too nerdy to ever take off. Moral of the story; never underestimate the power of the nerd!
How to find popular hashtags?
If you want to use hashtags for marketing, rather than for fun or irony, it’s best to use popular ones, as it means it will be placed on a page with lots of other posts that are more likely to get visited.
If you use #MyExperienceOnTuesdayInLondon then it’s very unlikely anyone else will use it, making it effectively useless.
To find popular hashtags you can:
- Use a single, relevant keyword
- Use hashtags that appear under ‘Trends’ on your home page (this can be set to any city or country)
- Type # then start typing the keyword and Twitter will suggest popular hashtags (as in the example below for #Marketing)
How many hashtags is best?
If you use too many hashtags then it’s likely to dilute the meaning of what you’re saying and #create #gibberish #that #is #hard #to #read. On the other hand, using them does create links to your Tweet from the collective hashtag of the group and helps other people find it. It’s therefore recommended to use between one and three hashtags in a Tweet.
In Facebook hashtags haven’t taken off in the same way, so use between zero and two.
What about @
The # and @ symbols shouldn’t be confused on social media as they mean 2 completely different things.
@ is used to identify someone’s Twitter profile, for example if you write @indigoextra then it will insert a link to Indigoextra’s Twitter profile, as well as sending us a notification that we’ve been mentioned in your Tweet.
Outside of the world of social media, if you see a # or hash symbol in a URL or web address, then it means whatever comes after it is part of the same page. This can be used in various ways:
- To allow people to link to different parts of the page via something called anchors, for example if you click how to find popular hashtags then it will take you to that section of this page.
If you look at the URL after clicking this link, it will have changed from https://www.indigoextra.com/blog/what-is-a-hashtag (the URL of this page) to https://www.indigoextra.com/blog/what-is-a-hashtag#popular-hashtags - adding #popular-hashtags to tell you which anchor text to visit.
- Instead of cookies to help track which pages visitors have seen, which currency they use, etc.
It's worth noting that Google only index a page once and ignore the part of the hash symbol in the URL. For SEO it's therefore essential not to use e.g. #french or #german to control the language of your website, as Google won't be able to distinguish between them. Separate sub-domains, sub-folders or separate domains all work just fine though.