Hashtags... What the #ell?
So, quick story to start this off. I know people have a love/hate relationship with the “Memories” feature on Facebook, where it shows you did a year ago, two years ago, etc. Not so great for exes, but fantastic for people with babies and puppies and stuff like that. Anyway, so a few months ago, a memory from three years ago popped up where I asked the Facebook community “Can someone explain this whole hashtag thing to me? Because I really don’t get it.” Which…obviously makes me laugh considering I now work in social media. But, I remember how I used to feel about them and now I get that same question from people practically every day.
So, what the #ell is a hashtag? Do I have to use them? What am I looking for? How do I know if it’s good or bad or appropriate or funny or…? Why are they so annoying?
Okay, I’m here to help you gain some hashtag insight as someone who has gone from extreme confusion – and quite truthfully, disgust – to master of the pound sign.
Start with the king, Facebook. Did you know that you get significantly less attention on Facebook if you use more than one-to-two hashtags? I am a big fan of Mark Zuckerburg, I think he is the bees-knees. However, he apparently isn’t overly concerned with hashtags as they are almost irrelevant on his platform. Personally, I think that one to two funny, silly, or specifically intended hashtags are appropriate on Facebook and may even garner you some more attention… but no more than that. Facebook just isn’t a great platform for the hashtag – it’s more for connecting conversation or marketing (see below), but the functionality for either one of those things isn’t natural or necessarily constructive on Facebook. If you insist on posting your Instagram photos from the Instagram app directly onto Facebook (pro tip: DON’T.), remove your hashtags for better visibility and for easier readability to your Facebook audience.
Hashtags are probably best known as a way to keep conversations going on Twitter. If you use twitter, you know hashtags reign. Searching on hashtag threads can help you keep track of topics, trending events, people, etc. They are much more obvious and well suited on Twitter than any other platform, in my opinion, because they are both relevant to the intent of the platform AND they serve a specific purpose. For example, if you are sending a tweet and use the hashtag #election2016, it will be lumped into the conversation occurring under everyone using that same hashtag. It makes it simple and quick for anyone who wants the latest and greatest on the election to find it simply by doing a hashtag search.
Hashtags are also extremely important and relevant on Instagram, which is truly my favorite social media platform. Honestly, because of hashtags, I am able to use Instagram for shopping…and I’m not kidding! Hashtags on Instagram are specifically used to help someone gain attention in a specific area. For example, if you are looking for something vintage, you can search Instagram hashtags such as #vintagestuff #vintagegoods #vintagefinds. You may end up stumbling on pages that you like, or my personal favorite – go down the rabbit-hole where you find a picture you like, and then end up click-happy until you have no idea how you got to where you are but it’s a very happy place. Instagram is a great place for community, especially small businesses. I think it is extremely underutilized, possibly because it is a photo-specific platform, and I think it is a harder stretch for some people to put the effort into it. To do it right takes planning and coordination, but in my opinion it is well worth it – especially if you hope to reach a younger and more national & international audience.
Conversely, if you hope to connect with people who share your love for a particular thing, you can utilize your own list of “marketing” hashtags on Instagram to try to attract those like-minded people to your page. You can include thirty hashtags on any given post. Once you tag your post with a specific hashtag, your picture will then show up in the aforementioned list of searchable hashtags. Feel free to check me here to follow my personal adventure as a mom, entrepreneur, and lady on a mission.
Hashtags are showing up other places – you can use and search them on Pinterest similar to Instagram, for marketing purposes, but that isn’t quite as noticeable at this point. I do think that Pinterest is an extreme underdog as far as social media is concerned. It is practically a household word, and yet I don’t think people truly understand it’s power. One of my goals for 2017 is to better harness it and expand some of my clients into it more aggressively.
Hashtags can be annoying because a lot of people don’t understand them, so they show up in places where they don’t make sense, hence perpetuating your confusion as to what the #ell they’re used for. I hope you learned a little bit about them today and can better harness them or understand their purpose. They aren't going away, so if you like social media then I'd say...get on board!
Are there still things you don't understand? Be sure to leave a comment and let me know - a follow up Blog with a Q&A might work well if I get enough.
P.S. I talked about hashtags during my weekly Facebook Live segment today, as well. Find it here.