What is a Hashtag, and How Do I Use It?

Published on July 7, 2014

Hashtags are a popular device found across social media sites today - effective when used well, but exceptionally silly looking when done poorly.  If you consider yourself only peripherally aware of what a hashtag even is and certainly don't know how to use it well, this is for you.


Hashtagging developed as a quick and easy way to link together posts based on a keyword or keyphrase (in Geek Speak, an "index").

You'll notice that a hashtagged word is proceeded with the number sign (or hash mark) "#". When found on a social media site, the hashtagged word is often turned into a hyperlink that, when clicked on, will take you to other posts that have also used the same hashtag.


Now that we've got an understanding about the function of hashtags, its time to put them to work for your company.

Hashtags are a key component of your social media inbound marketing strategies. When done correctly, hashtags bring in new audiences who may not otherwise come across your content. When done incorrectly, your posts can appear childish and reduce your relevancy.


Here are the #GoldenRules of hashtags that Steamfeed recommends.

1. Less is more. If you load down your posts with excessive hashtags, it lessens the visual value of your posts to prospective customers. Limit your posts to 1-2 specific, distinct hashtags. (According to Buffer, 1 to 2 hashtags on Twitter gain 21% more engagement than 3 or more hashtags.)

2. #Hashtagged #sentences #look #silly. Hashtaging every word in your post is impractical and just looks straight up wrong. If you have a phrase that you'd like to hashtag, don't break it up: #don't#worry#be#happy is the ineffective way. #Don'tWorryBeHappy is the effective way.
3. Hashtag like you mean it. Don't just hashtag a post because you're supposed to hashtag a post. Give them a purpose. Research hashtagged words or phrases that your targeted audience will respond to.
4. Get specific. Vague hashtags won't get you very far (aka #happy or #love = Booooring). Use your hashtag to target a specific community or common interest (aka #QuoteoftheDay or #InboundMarketing).
5. Give your events catchy hashtags. It's totally great to coin your own hashtags to categorize events. You'll see big events (cough the World Cup cough) coin hashtags like #USAvsGER which encourage other users to post their own content within the similar category. This gives you some prime opportunities to find other posts that you can share on your own feed. Additionally, this is a great way to retroactively view all posts from an event.
6. Keep 'em short. When someone is scrolling through their feed on their smartphone, chances are your post will only get a glance at best. They're probably not going to remember #ContentCreationConventionHilton2014Chicago. Aim for short, sweet, and memorable.
7. Plant your tongue firmly in your cheek. Clever works. Steamfeed references Charmin's #TweetFromTheSeat campaign in this category - its short, its catchy, and it's clever, which encourages others to use the same hashtag in their own tweets (read: user interaction.)
8. Don't hashtag your brand name. Ever notice how major companies don't hashtag their own name? It is most likely because it is redundant to hashtag your brand name with your profile name/company name and logo already staring users in the face. Stick with themes, events, and ideas.
9. Learn the trends. Getting in on trending hashtags is a great way to gain some new interaction. Tagboard is a great website to get informed, as it gathers hashtag stats from all of the major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and more.)
10. Steal hashtags. In the same vein as #9, you don't always have rack your brain to come up with the next-best hashtag. Use some hashtags that are already popular to bring in some new audience members.
11. Hashtags aren't one-sided. Once you've gained some readership and have some folks using your hashtags, don't leave them in the dark! Interact with them. This is an exceptionally important part of what we call "social media listening." Social media works the best when it is, well, social. Who likes having those one-sided conversations anyway?

If you'd like some help implementing your own social media strategy or have some tactics to add to the list, we'd love to hear from you!