A Beginner’s Guide to #Hashtags

Hashtags. They’ve been everywhere for the last decade, moving from social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram to movie titles, headlines, and everyday speech. 

Hashtags are incredibly useful tools for grouping and sharing common ideas on social media. They help you organize your online content, filter content you’d rather not see, and discover new media related to your interests. Whether you like them or not, hashtags are here to stay.

If your business has any social media presence (and it should), you need to be comfortable using hashtags. Today’s guide has something for you, whether you’ve never used a hashtag in your life or you’re an Instagram veteran who wants a refresher course. We’re going to walk through the dos and don’ts of hashtags, plus some practical tips for how to use them. 

The Basics

Hashtags originated on Twitter as keywords so users could index particular topics. The word “hashtag” refers to both the # symbol and the keywords that follow it. 

There are two cardinal rules of hashtagging:

  1. Don’t use spaces. 
  2. Don’t use punctuation or symbols.

Some hashtags are just one word, like #cats or #art. Many hashtags are a series of words or phrases, usually 2–8 words long. Do not put a space between the words. The hashtag only tracks the characters immediately following it, not those separated by spaces or punctuation. 

Suppose you want to tag a photo of your ice cream shop’s latest flavor. You should use the tag “#icecream” and not “#ice cream” or “#ice #cream.”  Even if your keyword is several words long, treat it as one word when writing your hashtag. 

Hashtags also can’t contain apostrophes, dashes, or other punctuation marks. 

The Capitalization Debate

Hashtags are not case sensitive. Whether you use #icecream, #Icecream, or #IceCream, these tags function the same. The decision to capitalize your hashtags is largely aesthetic, but it can have an impact on how people look at your social media content, especially if you use longer hashtags. 

When you’re trying to decide how to capitalize your hashtags, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does capitalization make your hashtag easier to read?
  • Could somebody accidentally misread your hashtag without capitalization? (E.g. “#catscan” can be read as “CAT scan” or “cats can.”)
  • If it’s an existing hashtag, how do people typically capitalize it?

The best thing you can do when capitalizing your hashtags is to be consistent. All lowercase hashtags may give your brand a blasé, hip image. Capitalizing every word makes you seem meticulous, careful, and professional. Think about the kind of image you want your brand to portray on social media and use your hashtags accordingly.

How Long Is Too Long?

There is no strict limit for the length of your hashtags. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to create and use extremely long hashtags.

Long hashtags are more common on Twitter, where people often use them for a comedic effect. #CareerEndingTwitterTypos, #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly, and #MyHighSchoolWasWeird are some examples of long hashtags for humorous content. 

Be careful when creating a long hashtag. Twitter has a 280 character limit, and the longer your hashtag, the fewer characters you have left for the content of your tweet. Plus, longer hashtags are more likely to be misspelled, which means they won’t appear in search results. 

When creating a hashtag for an event or contest, try to keep it under 20 characters. Your hashtag should be long enough that it’s specific and unique to your event, but not so long that people can’t spell it. 

Let’s say our hypothetical ice cream shop wants to host a contest encouraging guests to create beautiful sundaes. The hashtag #IceCreamConeDecoratingChallenge2022 is far too long. #IceCreamContest22 is a better alternative. 

A good hashtag for your brand should be 6–16 characters long. That’s long enough to include specific keywords without getting unwieldy. 

How Many Is Too Many?

When posting to social media platforms, too many hashtags can clutter your content and make you seem spammy. Only tag your content with relevant hashtags, and resist the urge to use popular tags that have nothing to do with your content.

According to HootSuite, these are the ideal number of hashtags to use on each social media platform:

  • Twitter: 1–2
  • Facebook: 2–3 
  • LinkedIn: 1–5
  • Pinterest: 2–5
  • Instagram: 3–5
  • TikTok: 3–5
  • YouTube: 3–5

Stay within these ranges, and your social media posts will show up in people’s searches without seeming like spam.

How to Use Hashtags on Social Media

Start by searching hashtags related to your business on social media. See what hashtags your ideal audience already uses. Use relevant, moderately popular hashtags when you post, and join in on your audience’s existing conversations. Later recommends using hashtags that have 10k–200k posts. Anything more than that and your posts may get lost in the sheer volume of content.

Consider creating a hashtag for your brand. It can be as simple as your business’s name or tagline, or it can be a new phrase that invites people to engage with your brand. Always check to see if your hashtag already exists. You don’t want to post branded content with a hashtag used for discussing sensitive subjects. 

For some examples of what can go wrong when you misuse hashtags, check out this article by HubSpot. The results range from funny mistakes to major social faux pas.

Using Hashtags Outside of Social Media

You can use hashtags outside of Instagram and Twitter to increase brand awareness. When you consistently use a hashtag (on and off social media), you encourage your audience to use it, too. People will be more likely to look up your hashtag, introducing them to your business and your social media following.

Here are some ways you can use your hashtag off social media:

  • Include it in the copy of your emails.
  • Put it on merchandise like mugs, stickers, or water bottles.
  • Use it on a vehicle wrap to advertise your business.
  • Talk about your hashtag in your blog posts, YouTube videos, or podcast.

Invite your audience to use your hashtag, too! Just be sure it’s unique to your business—you don’t want to accidentally advertise for someone else’s brand.

Still feeling lost with all this talk about hashtags and social media platforms?
Schedule a call today and let us give you a hand. You can breathe easy with our copywriting and social media masters handling your business’s online presence. 

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