How did hashtags start?

The 23rd August 2007 might not go down in history as defining moments in the modern world, but it’s certainly had a big impact on how we communicate over social media.

It was the first day that Chris Messina, a designer at Google, suggested that people use the hashtag (#) to group messages.

Chris Messina hashtag tweet

Since then, hashtags have become so popular they are commonly used as standard communication by Millennials and Gen Z’ers.

In fact, in 2010, the hashtag was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and in 2014 it even made the Scrabble dictionary in 2014 (#official), fully cementing its role in modern history.

Now, hashtags are the unifying way to identify and classify content across social media.

What is a hashtag?

Hashtags are used as a way of categorising content on social media and using them makes your own content discoverable.  This makes it an easy way to find relevant content from other people and businesses. The hashtag also allows you to connect with and engage other social media users based on a common theme or interest.

When someone uses a hashtag, the post is then indexed by the social network that it is used on.  Then when a user clicks on that hashtag, they will be brought to a page that with all the other posts that uses that same hashtag.

Using hashtags are an easy way to get your posts discovered by new users and it expands your reach to other communities and audiences. The more targeted your hashtag strategy is, the more engagement, followers, and website clicks you’ll receive.

We have certainly found this to be true on our School of Marketing Instagram (@somarketinghq).  We launched our page last Monday and already have over 127 followers and on our most recent post, managed to get over 55 likes.  This is all off the back of using relevant hashtags for our industry.

There are hashtag tools that can allow you to find the right hashtags for your post. But these won’t be the complete solution for you as they are not curated explicitly for your company. The best solution is to create your own hashtag list and curate the hashtags that work best for you.

So, here at The School of Marketing, we have created a Google doc with a list of hashtags that are relevent to what we do, our core audience of small business owners, and marketing topics.  We have also put together a list of hashtags that are around holidays and fun days, just to add a bit of fun to our feed.

In our Google doc, we have a standard list that we use on most posts as our most relevant hashtags but also have some others that we can draw on when we need them.

How should I use hashtags?

Here are a few guidelines to help you get started.

Be specific

Being with your hashtags allows you to directly target your audience.  For example, is you are selling boxing equipment, using the hashtag #sportsequipment may attract a larger audience but not all of them will be interested in boxing. By using #boxingequipment, you are talking directly to people that want what you are offering.

Not all social platforms are the same

While hashtags on all social networks have the same fundamental purpose of content tagging and discovery, the use of hashtags still varies by each social platform. As a general rule of thumb hashtags on Instagram tend to be focused on the content of the image, whereas hashtags on Twitter are more related to a topic or subject.

Doing your hashtag homework will pay off

Research the most popular and most relevant hashtags on a specific subject for each network. Remember, you are looking for actual customer engagement here, so choose wisely.

We recommend making a selection of a few different levels of hashtag.  Ideally, you want some hashtags that have enough followers that you stay near the top of the list for a while as well as some hashtags that have a larger number of posts.  We have found the sweet spot to be hashtags that have between 30,000 – 1m previous posts.

You can find out how many posts each hashtag has on Instagram, just by going to the platform and doing a search with the hashtag phrase.  As you do so, different hashtags will show up, along with the number of posts for each one.

hashtag searching

Do come up with relevant engaging hashtags

Also, it is worth creating a hashtag for your brand, something that you use in every post so people can not only see wall of your content clearly but you can start to build a following through this hashtag.

Having said that however it does not always have to be your brand name.

The hashtag should try and evoke an emotional response but still be relevant to your brand name or identity. Coke’s #shareacoke is a great example of this, as it allows customers to immediately purchase and engage with Coke. Having a branded hashtag is a great way to start user-generated content, campaigns and even competitions.

Another brilliant example is the iconic #icebucketchallenge, used as a way to spread awareness about Motor Neurone Disease. It made it easy for users to tag friends and family and get them immediately on board with the challenge but it was also brilliant for the MND (Or ALS society in the US) to track the engagement in the campaign.

When Julie, the founder of The School of Marketing, was running Women Unlimited, she ran an annual conference every year.  For each conference, she would use the hashtag #WUC followed by the year ie #WUC2013.  This made it easy for conference attendees (and other followers) to follow all the useful tips and ideas that came out of the conference.  It also meant that each year on the day of the conference, the Women Unlimited brand would trend on Twitter in the UK during the hours of the conference, so was also a very strong branding opportunity.

Don’t go too long or too clever

In general, if you’re creating a hashtag you should try to keep it short and sweet. Even though “#easykidscraftactivities” might target a very specific audience, no one will use it because they just don’t want to type in that many characters.

Hashtags are supposed to make things easier to find and engage with, but long, complicated hashtags can actually be more arduous. In this case, you’re better off with something like #kidscraft or even, #kidscraftideas.

Don’t have more hashtags than words

Although it’s tempting because more hashtags can often mean more likes.  Overloading posts with hashtags doesn’t necessarily generate quality engagement.  Even if you do get more followers, often these are just spammers or people looking to get likes back, not people actually interested in your products and services. So don’t dilute your message by over hashtagging (#lessismore).

Hashtag tools that help

As well as the native hashtag functionality of Instagram and Twitter, there are a couple of great tools that can make finding the perfect hashtags much easier.  As per usual, we will not overwhelm you with choices, but just give you the two that we think are most useful.

Hashtagify

You can enter one hashtag and it will give you not only other hashtag options, but also trends and influencers that use that hashtag.

http://hashtagify.me

Ritetag

Ritetag is another great tool for discovering Hashtags. It gives you a chance to not only find new hashtags, but also see how frequently they are used, retreats, posts with the hashtag and more.  It has both a free and premium version.

https://ritetag.com

Ritetag

Digital Purposes

For simplicity and to just get a great list of hashtags, Display Purposes is incredibly easy and simple to use.

https://displaypurposes.com

But as we said before, we would suggest using these only as a guide and creating your own curated list of great hashtags for your business.

Like with any marketing strategy you need to analyse your results so you can find what works and repeat it. Take time to track the engagement of your posts and work out what hashtags bring you the best newfollowers, click throughs or enquiries. And don’t be afraid to experiment.

Happy Hashtagging!

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