Pound sign. Number sign. Octothorpe. Hashtag. This little symbol (#) has many names, and its usage has exploded right along social media.When used in a social networking context, the # symbol identifies and categorizes a keyword or topic of interest. Whenever you add a hashtag to a post, the social network (Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Facebook, etc) indexes it and makes it searchable to other users. When a user clicks on a hashtag, they’re taken to a page that aggregates all posts with the same hashtag. If a hashtag becomes popular enough, it starts trending. Trending, however, is based on users’ location and social connections, so it’s not a straight popularity contest.

Hashtag Etiquette

#LessIsMore. Resist the urge to #hashtag #every #single #word. Over-use of hashtags can make it difficult for readers to follow the conversation, thereby disrupting engagement.

#KeepItRelative. Hashtags should enhance your social strategy. Mixing unrelated hashtags in with a primary one focused on a certain marketing campaign can confuse fans. For example, if you’re writing about #SocialMedia, don’t randomly throw a #Food hashtag in there.

#HashtagHijacking. If you want to capitalize on a trending hashtag, like #FollowFriday or #SuperBowl, ensure that your message is relevant to the subject matter of the hashtag. Jumping on the hashtag bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it is frowned upon in social media.

#ShortAndSweet. Keep your hashtags short. #StringingTooManyWordsTogetherInAHashtag is confusing to your readers. You have 140 characters; make each one count.

#CarefulCapitalization. People are lazy on the internet, and will often forego proper grammar and capitalization on social media. One famous example occurred when the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died. The hashtag #NowThatcherIsDead was created, but when people tweeted #nowthatcherisdead, Cher fans became upset. Why? They read the hashtag as #NowThatCherIsDead.

#GoodPublicity. If your social media account is public, anyone who searches for a particular hashtag will be able to find your post. Ensure that your message is positive and relevant!

#HashtagSocialMediaSupport. Different social media networks use hashtags, but regardless of the network, the basic premise is to organize topics and make it easier for users to find what’s relevant to them. However, each network has its own quirks:

Twitter: The network that started it all. Twitter is still the most popular site for hashtags, which can be found on the left side of your browser stream. If you’re using the mobile app, tap on the search icon to access trending hashtags.

Facebook: If you click on a Facebook hashtag, you’re taken to a separate page with posts you can see based on privacy settings. Trending topics are shown in the top right corner of your news feed.

Instagram: Instagram hashtags are very similar to Twitter hashtags. Clicking on one, such as #dogsofinstagram, will take you to pictures tagged with that hashtag.

Google+: Google+ hashtags are similar to those found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but there’s one major difference. If you create a post and forget to hashtag it, Google+ will add hashtags if it thinks that your content is relevant to a certain hashtag; e.g. #marketing.

Vine: As a Twitter owns Vine, so it’s only natural that hashtag functionality is included. Hashtags work the same way that they do on other sites; i.e. clicking a hashtag will take you to a page with other Vines tagged with the same hashtag.

Still have questions about #hashtags? Leave us a comment below, or get in touch with us.

GTECH Designs is a Baltimore-based web marketing firm that is committed to helping impact-makers spend more time doing good. For more information, contact us at 410-775-4100, email us at [email protected], or get in touch with us via  Facebook or Twitter

About The Author

Bola Olonisakin

Bola Olonisakin

Bola is the founder and principal at GTECH Designs, a digital creative agency that helps small and mid-sized businesses launch, grow and succeed. Her research and work in web design, social media and strategic communication have been published in numerous books and articles, and she’s regularly seen on stage at events around the country. She’s responsible for teaching GTECH clients how to blend strategic goal-setting with great design to create effective online marketing strategies. You can reach her at [email protected]