Mind Your (Social Media) Manners: How to properly hashtag

A good hashtag helps your conversation spread, trend and even go viral. But not everyone knows #HowToHashtag properly, and conversations get lost in the fray. We’re showing you how to make the most of your hashtags.

A client once asked me, “how do we book this hashtag, how do we register it?”, which led to a long explanation of well, that’s not really how they work. Sure, there are some companies out there who have tried (and fewer who have successfully) registered hashtags, and there is even a place called Twubs that allows you to claim them, the truth is all you really need to do is create them and use them. Unless your hashtag is hugely successful or you’re putting millions in advertising behind it, I wouldn’t recommend taking the legal route to register a haghtag that you’re unsure is even going to work out in your favor. But there is hashtag etiquette, and there are a few simple ways to make them stand out and be effective.


Of course, it helps to know what they actually do, and yes, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t actually *get* hashtags, so before we get into the tips, let’s go through the basics of how to properly hashtag.


What does a hashtag mean in social media?

A hashtag is a social media device which allows you to draw attention to a specific word or phrase and use that phrase to track a specific conversation. Most frequently used on Twitter and Instagram, but also used on Facebook and other platforms, the hashtag also allows people to search for tweets and posts related to a conversation that’s happening. Twitter and Instagram also use these tags to show what conversations are trending, what people are talking about.


For example, over the last few years, it’s become pretty popular to post something nostalgic on your social media on a Thursday and hashtag it #TBT, which simply stands for “Throwback Thursday”. It’s a hashtag used by private people, celebrities and companies alike to quickly and easily reminisce about something special from their past.


But you can use hashtags in business for just about any purpose, whether it’s a #NewProductLaunch, a #SpecialEvent, or to #ShowSolidarity with a cause. Unfortunately, it can be easy to get wrong, so here’s our breakdown on how to properly hashtag.

#HashtagBlizzard - don’t get lost in the storm!

You’ve seen it on Instagram, it’s there on Facebook, and it even happens on Twitter with its limited characters - the hashtag blizzard. When #someone #overdoes the #hashtags it #makesreadinghard and messages #getlostinthestorm. It can get confusing and cause people to stop noticing what conversation you’re trying to start or get involved in.


What is the purpose of a hashtag? It’s to link to or start a conversation. Don’t try to hold twenty conversations at once. Especially when it comes to using hashtags for business purposes, try to stick to a maximum of three: first, your company hashtag, if you use one; second, the campaign-specific hashtag; and third, if it’s relevant, a hashtag that ties into a specific conversation.  Don’t just throw a hashtag in there because it’s popular.  For example, this had very poor consequences for Entenmann’s.

#CheckYourSpelling (and punctuation)

There are a few simple rules on how to write hashtag:

1)     Make sure it’s spelled correctly every time - when doing a search on the various social media platforms, they will only find the tags that are spelled exactly as you search for them so #seplilngerrors won’t show up in your results.

2)     Don’t use punctuation - a hashtag can only be made up of the hash key, followed directly by a series of numbers (0-1) and standard letters (A-Z). As soon as you use a space, a special character or a punctuation mark, it breaks up the hashtag, or ends it. Social media will only recognize it up to that point In other words, #Party!2017 will only be recognized as #Party, while #Party2017 is recognized in full


A hashtag should be immediately readable. Don’t make it impossible, or even just difficult, for someone to figure out what it says. Make them legible and comprehensible like this:

1)     Keep it short - use as few words as possible to convey the message, and choose short words over longer synonyms.

2)     Capitalize each word - if you have more than one word, start each one with a capital letter, so that it’s easier to distinguish them


For example, if we’re hashtagging this article, we could go with #howtohashtagproperlyonsocialmedia, but that’s long, clunky and difficult to read. We can improve it by shortening it to #howtohashtag, because this conveys the message and is more likely to be used as a search term. Then, to make it easily and quickly readable, we change the letter casing to #HowToHashtag - now anyone can read and understand at a glance that this is an article about how to use hashtags.


As a side note, re-read your hashtag with an “internet eye”. Even if you’ve carefully capitalized the first letters, type it out once in all lower case and read it as if you’ve never seen it, have a dirty mind and are looking for a way to find fault. Like the #susanalbumparty (#SusanAlbumParty) hashtag for Susan Boyle’s new album launch that led to, well, misunderstandings...

#HashtagHijack - don’t do it!

You’ve come up with the perfect hashtag, made sure it reads easily, doesn’t have any unintentional unfortunate implications, and you’re ready to put it out there. Just hold your horses for a second, ok! Take a few minutes to put the tag into various social media searches and make sure it isn’t already being used.


Also, if you’re using an existing hashtag and tying into the conversation, make sure you’re using it appropriately. There's nothing wrong with linking your brand to an existing hashtag, like the #tbt example we mentioned above, but make sure your post is not in bad taste, or contrary to the intention of the original message. Before posting ask yourself these questions:


1)     Will your use of an existing hashtag make you look as though you’re capitalizing on tragedy?

2)     Is your hashtag making light of a serious situation?


Seen any hashtags that made your eye twitch? Or do you know of a brilliant hashtag campaign that worked? Share in the comments below.


Need help coming up with hashtags that will get people talking? Get in touch, we can help.

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