OK, folks, let’s talk hashtags. I know you know what they are. You know I know what they are. They can be a risky endeavor, or a very useful tool to draw attention. The trick is making sure that they’re not detracting from your presence on social media. Hashtags are easy enough to create, but can actually be a double edged sword that can be a detriment to your overall social media presence. How do we make sure that they don’t do that?

What is a hashtag?

In case we have any new users here who are just getting into the social media game, I want to provide a quick working definition for you. A hashtag is a term that you’ve preceded with a ‘#’ symbol. For those who grew up in the same era that I did, this can also be called the ‘pound’ symbol from your phone. We’ve reappropriated this term for social media purposes. The hashtag term that you define will be a clickable, searchable term that you can use to identify posts on social media.

You can create any hashtag that you’d like for any purpose that you’d like. However, certain hashtags already carry plenty of popularity.

How do I create a hashtag?

Creating a hashtag is as simple as stringing a bunch of letters behind a ‘#’ symbol. Creating a hashtag, though, can be a little bit more complicated, depending on how much thought you want to put into it.

First, if you want your hashtags to be directly linked to a contest or certain types of posts, make sure that you’re not using a hashtag with a huge number of posts already associated. It’s as simple as searching the hashtag on the social media platform that you’re using. You may want to consider the length of the hashtag that you’re using. If you use a hashtag that is too long, the likelihood is that people won’t use it. Make your hashtag quick and easy to remember, and make it catchy.

Second, when you’re creating a hashtag, make sure that it doesn’t immediately conflict with your brand message. This may sound counterintuitive, but hashtags that are already in use can be a powder keg for a business. This goes right back to checking the background of the hashtags that you use. Check, check, recheck, and check some more. Make sure that you’re not creating links back to your business that will be a problem for you in the future.

What do I need to consider with my hashtags?

Consider many factors. First, how many hashtags do you want to use? This is absolutely vital to making your posts go as far as they can. The most important thing when considering how many hashtags to use is how much content you have. A hashtag shouldn’t be the majority of the post unless it’s the only hashtag. Your hashtags are an accent to the content that you’ve already created. Making the hashtag the star of the post is a mistake. You want your content to stand on its own two legs, using the hashtag as a category or a marker for that content. Digital Information world found that if you use more than two hashtags in any given post will decrease engagement by about 17%. Adding more hashtags than two impacts the general engagement of your post and therefore negates any effect that the hashtags were having.

Also, make sure that your hashtags aren’t huge. Making a hashtag that is extremely lengthy is guaranteeing that people won’t want to type it into a post. Keep it simple and to the point, and keep it memorable. Keep the content memorable as well. Make sure that the hashtag is being attached to content that you stand behind and aren’t too shy to share and keep sharing over time. Remember, that hashtag will forge an association with you and your brand, even perhaps after a post is deleted.

Finally, make sure that your hashtag is properly formatted. Don’t use unsupported characters or spaces in your hashtag. This is another reason to make sure that you keep your hashtags short and sweet. If your hashtags have too many characters, it can become confusing to try to read them. Your viewers may have trouble actually understanding what your hashtag means if you don’t properly format your hashtags.

How can I tell if it’s working?

The best way to tell is through a little bit of testing on your part. It’s interesting to find out what works and what doesn’t on a social media post. I like to use simple tests that change only one or two things. This is a very controlled experiment. Keep your copy the same and then try a couple of different hashtags. Start out with one hashtag and then add a second one for the second post. Try to keep the experiment as controlled as possible. Use the same time of day, generally, to run your experiments.

If you choose to experiment with more than just a hashtag, your experiments can give you a little bit less relevance. The engagement could be different just because of the time of day that you’re posting. Try out a post 24 hours apart with different hashtags. Check out your analytics a couple of days later, and see which one performed better. Remember, stuff that worked for me may not necessarily work for you. Because my content and my audience is so different from yours, my experiments will give different results.

Putting it all together

In the end, what we’ve learned is that making your content work for you is about trial and error in some cases. However, there are steadfast rules that will never fail you. First, don’t spam with hashtags. Second, make your hashtags relevant. Third, use the hashtags as an accent to your content. Following these simple rules will make the hashtags work for you, not the other way around. Hashtags will become a valuable tool for you and will make your life a lot easier. And as always, happy posting!