By @TheMarkDalton

Hashtags are a prominent part of tech culture now so it is rare to find someone who doesn’t who what they are. Hashtags are seen on a variety of platforms from Twitter to Facebook and Instagram.

However, despite the fact that people know what they are, there seems to be an overwhelming number of people who don’t know how to use them correctly or are not using them to maximum effect. Yes, believe it or not, wonderful as hashtags are people are not getting the most out of them.

If you are running social media for your business, that can be a problem because things get messy real quick with hashtags and that won’t make a good first impression.

What is a hashtag?

Simply put, hashtags are what we use to categorise content on social media. When you use a hashtag it turns a word or phrase into a clickable button which you can use to access search related to that word.

So this is useful if you are engaging with Twitter chats, such as #IrishBizParty. You can include the hashtag in your tweets so that you will show up in the stream of the conversation and you can engage with others using that hashtag.

Hashtags are so prominent that you usually see them displayed at strategic points during TV shows so you can use the hashtag to join in an online conversation about that show.

Knowing how to deploy hashtags effectively is fundamental to your social media success because if someone visits your profile and finds a hashtag mess all over your stream – well lets just say that won’t make a good first impression will it?

With that in mind, here are some pointers on what you should and shouldn’t do with hashtags.

Do!

1. Participate in using hashtags to spread your message to a broader audience. Don’t just use them liberally on your posts because you think it will get you great exposure. Find others using the same hashtag, build networks and connect with them.
2. Use hashtags which are brief and easy to understand.
3. Research trending hashtags before jumping into the conversation to see what people are actually talking about. Too often have brands tried to jump onto a trending hashtag to gain exposure and shared something stupid which is not in line with the actual discussion.
4. Check the spelling. We all make typos however making a mistake on a hashtag means you won’t be seen in that conversation. Check the spelling before you post so you know you are getting into the mix.

Don’t!

1. Don’t put spaces of special characters in your hashtag. Using a symbol like a hyphen breaks the hashtag and will result in only the first part of your phrase or word being hashtagged.
2. Don’t overuse hashtags. Use a maximum of two per tweet of Facebook post. Personally I even think that is pushing it, I would prefer you to only use one and don’t feel the need to use them every single time you tweet. Remember, social media search engines are sophisticated enough to be able to find words without a hashtag, it is a clickable search term in your post or a way to join a live conversation on Twitter.
3. Don’t use more hashtags than words. It dilutes the message and attracts the wrong kind of follower. The only platform where you can “get away” with excessive hashtag use is Instagram. People overload their photos with as many hashtags on Instagram as possible and it does extend reach but generally to spammers or people only interested in follow backs.
4. Don’t use them on LinkedIn. I see a lot of people who use hashtags now on LinkedIn despite the fact that they were made obsolete on LinkedIn more than two years ago. Many of these people then describe themselves in their profile as a ‘social media guru’. Optimise your message for each platform.

Key points

The key points to takeaway is when using hashtags you want to make sure they are relevant to what you are talking about. Do your research before you try to jump on a trending hashtag to see what people are actually talking about and to get a feel for the tone of the conversation.

Don’t feel the need to include hashtags in every post. As a guideline, I would suggest to only consider hash tagging something when you want to either.

a) Join in a live conversation which requires the use of a hashtag to follow along and participate

or

b) You are sharing some of your own content which provides value and you want to maximise reach

If you are re-sharing content from others or you are just tweeting away some information about something, don’t feel the need to include a hashtag. Remember, social media search is no sophisticated enough that it will search and display terms and words that do not have a hashtag as well as ones which do have a hashtag.

Don’t use too many hashtags so that it ends up diluting the message you are trying to get across and don’t use symbols or characters that will break the hashtag.

Hashtags are fantastic to join in conversations and maximise exposure when you use them strategically for your business.

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