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Everything you wanted to know about #hashtags

Posted on: September 30 2013 | Posted in: Client Help

When one of our social media specialists spoke at the National Association of Business Women Owners panel last week, a lot of the questions she fielded were about using hashtags. Many of the participants wanted to know the best way to use them, when to use them, and if they really made a difference in their social media marketing.

Since so many of you were curious about what’s now become a social media must-know, we thought we’d dedicate an entire blog post to it.

Here’s everything you need to know about hashtags:

What are hashtags?

Think of hashtags as searchable keywords on social media sites.  They help social media users start and find conversations happening around a particular subject. For example, if you’re watching a Saints game, then you might want to search for the hashtag #WhoDat on Twitter. There, you’ll see all of the conversations happening about the Saints game in real time, and you can jump in with your own thoughts and opinions.

How can hashtags help me grow my social media presence?

Hashtags are great way to build an audience on social media. Search for hashtags that relate to your business and interact with the people using them. For example, if I own a landscaping company, I might interact with people using the hashtags #gardening, #landscaping, or even #flowers.

You can also include hashtags on the posts/pictures/videos you send out to make them easier to find for people with similar interests.

P.S. - Popular hashtags for New Orleans residents are #nola, #nolalove and even #nolafood. If you own a business in New Orleans, try using those hashtags to look for locals to interact with.

How are hashtags used on different social networks?

Hashtags are used on several different social media networks, and are used basically the same way. They are particular popular on Twitter and Instagram, where users’ accounts are almost always set to “public” so that anyone can view them.

Hashtags are having a hard time catching on via Facebook, though. Before Facebook acquired Instagram, hashtags were not searchable on the social network. Now that they are, they don't give the desired affect because most Facebook users have their accounts set to private. For example, if we post a Facebook status with the hashtag #WhoDat, but set our privacy setting so that only our friends can see that status, then our post will not appear in any hashtag searches by those outside our friend network. That means no one outside the group of people we know can find or join in the conversation we just tried to start.

Facebook users can set their privacy status to "public" so that anyone can see their posts, but right now the only accounts that seem to do that are brands and public figures. So basically, when a user searches for a hashtag on Facebook, they are mainly seeing posts from brands and public figures - not other people.  Because of this, we recommend focusing any hashtag efforts on Twitter and Instagram. Hashtags on Facebook may improve in the future, but they aren’t worth spending a lot of time on right now.

How do I know what hashtags to use?

Be selective in what hashtags you use in your posts. Search the social network you're on to see what hashtags people are using the most for a subject you're interested in. For example, if I own a clothing store in New Orleans, I might look to see if people are using the hashtag #fashionnola. If there is a vibrant community around that hashtag, I will use it more in the future on my fashion posts. If not, then I don't have to worry about including it in future posts. If you're on Instagram, you can use Webstagram (Instagram for your PC) to see how many people are using a certain hashtag compared to hashtags related to it.

Just remember: If you use too many hashtags in a post, it can look like spam.

Can I use hashtags in my own marketing campaign?

Sure! Just remember that no one owns a hashtag, so if a company wants to use them in a marketing campaign, then the hashtag needs to be fairly unique itself. For example, if a store wants to give away tickets to a Saints game, asking users to enter the contest by using the popular hashtag #WhoDat would be a bad idea since entries will easily get lost in game day chatter. Instead, the company may want to use a hashtag like #WinDat, or one that incorporates the company's name. As long as the hashtag isn't too long and will help you find entries pretty quickly, it should be good.

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