A Hashtag Primer for Small Business


A hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded by the hash symbol (#), that people include in their social media posts. Essentially, it makes the content of your post accessible to all people with similar interests, even if they’re not your followers or fans.  For instance, let’s say you’re an Apple fan and that you’re playing with the idea of buying an iPhone 5. A simple “#iPhone5″ search on any social network will open a dedicated news feed with all iPhone 5 latest updates, deals, rumors and hacks. The results you see on this feed are the aggregated posts of any users who used “#iPhone5″ in their posts. But usually, users don’t actively search for hashtags, but simply spot them. Hashtags appear as clickable links on posts they see and a mouse click will display a real-time live feed of every other post tagged with the same hashtag.

  • Once upon a time, # was but a simple pound sign or hash. But then came Twitter and turned this mundane sign into an online sensation. Today, whether you are on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube or Facebook, you simply cannot escape the all-encompassing presence of the #hashtag.
  • To the social media novice, hashtags might seem confusing, annoying and pointless at first glance. But if you understand their purpose and learn how to use them, hashtags are a powerful tool to help you engage your target audience and increase your brand awareness.

How Can Using #Hashtags Help you Promote your Business?

Assuming your social media profile is public, using hashtags make your posts visible to basically anyone who shares your interest. No longer are your posts limited to just your followers; your content is now accessible to all other users interested in similar topics. Choosing the right hashtag can greatly broaden the reach of your social media posts to thousands of potential followers, fans or customers.

Creating an Effective Hashtag:

If you want to create a hashtag, you just have to include a # and a relevant keyword or phrase following it. Hashtags can be inserted anywhere in your social media posts: front, middle or end; it’s based on your personal preference. The position of the hashtag doesn’t really matter, as long as it remains relevant. Remember, hashtags are powerful only when used wisely. A cluttered post which has excessive hashtags or overly lengthy hashtags are enough to turn people off, e.g. #ThisExtraLongHashtagIsSoMeaningless.

As a golden rule of thumb, try to keep your hashtags to a maximum of two or three for Twitter. When it comes to Instagram, the ideal number of hashtags is five. But, above all, use clear, unique and relevant hashtags.

Three Powerful Types Hashtags for Social Media:

  • Content Hashtags: If you are completely new to hashtags, start with the basic use, i.e. using hashtags for directly relating to your product, service or brand. Content hashtags give a good exposure to your brand in terms of your potential customers on those social media platforms who have come across your brand for the first time.   For example, we might use #consulting.
  • Trending Hashtags: For boosting your brand’s visibility, another good way is to use existing hashtags that are popular among millions of users. These hashtags are also known as ‘trending’ hashtags. But, hashtag the trending topic only if the social media posts are adding some value to the existing conversation. The chances of your post getting lost is much higher if your post does not add value.

    On the other hand, if your post is genuinely informative, viral or something funny, it might get re-shared by fellow users and thereby increase the awareness of your brand. One such occasion for trending topic is Valentine’s Day, when many brands and companies hop on the #ValentinesDay bandwagon.

  • Brand-Specific Hashtags: At times, using generic or popular hashtags can be problematic as your posts may get lost in the noise of thousands of posts using the same hashtags. The solution of this problem can be creating your own brand-specific hashtags. You can create it for overall branding, events, promotions, contests, marketing campaigns, etc.  For example, asking followers to share their favorite experience using your product using a hashtag (e.g. #DrGhappybackmoment).

To sum it all, the key to creating an effective brand-specific hashtag is ensuring that no one else is using the same hashtag. Also, make sure it is relevant, unique and memorable. For general branding purpose, you can use a short motto or tagline. When you are creating marketing campaign-specific hashtags, ensure that users get a compelling incentive to use the hashtags. For instance, getting users to post with a campaign-specific hashtag and giving them a chance to win prizes or get discounts. In return, your brand gets the chance to benefit from viral marketing publicity.