I frequently get questions from people about hashtags. What are they? Why do people use them? Should I be using them? So let’s answer a few of these and talk about how you can use them, and when you should.
What are hashtags?
A hashtag is simply a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic on social media.
Why do people use hashtags?
A hashtag is used in social media to help people find information, blog posts, tweets, etc. on a specific topic. For example, if everyone is tweeting about an event, there might be an event hashtag that is used, so you can sort and/or search for tweets just about that event. When I go to a WordCamp (WordCamp US is coming up next month!) there is always a hashtag for the event, so when you tweet anything about that event, you can use the hashtag. When I’m at a WordCamp, I always set up a special column in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite that pulls all the tweets using that hashtag together, so I can see what other people are saying about the same event.
This is particularly useful if you want to know what other people at the same event are tweeting, because if you aren’t following them, then you wouldn’t see their tweets.
Should I be using hashtags?
Maybe. Are you sharing on social media on topics that are popular or can be categorized or grouped with other tweets? Then definitely. For example, when I share a blogpost about WordPress, I’ll often use the hashtag #wordpress, and anyone who is looking at tweets with that topic can see mine too. Other hashtags I might use are #wptips (if I’m sharing a tip about wordpress), or #plugin if I’m writing about a WordPress plugin, or #webdesign if I’m writing about web design.
People often misuse hashtags.
A lot of people just don’t use hashtags right. They make up their own hashtag out of whatever they are writing about. Maybe they are tweeting about going to the grocery store, and they might hashtag it #imshopping or #buyingmilk or #ihatethestore. And while this may accurately describe what they are doing, if the hashtag isn’t something that someone is looking for, then it’s not going to be useful. If you use a hashtag that nobody is using, then it’s not going to help anyone find your post. What might be better, for the grocery store reference, would be to use a hashtag with the name of the store. More people are likely to be searching or using that hashtag than something like #buyingmilk.
This is of course, unless you are trying to start a new trend or topic, then you would want to choose an original hashtag that can be used for related posts.
How do I know what hashtag to use?
This is the million dollar question. What hashtag should you use to ensure that your post is being found? How do you know what hashtag to use? One website I like is Hashtagify. You can see what’s trending, but you can also search hashtags to see if anyone is using it or if a hashtag is already trending. Making your hashtag relevant to your topic is important.
Another resource is this infographic from Twitter on choosing a hashtag.
I find it really useful when writing blog posts to include hashtags if the topic is relevant to what people might be searching for, so that my post can be grouped with other posts. It increases visibility of my post, increases the likelihood it’ll be see, shared, or favorited.