Most of us with an internet connection are probably familiar with the hashtag and what it does, but knowing what a hashtag technically is isn’t the same as knowing all its uses and functions. Hashtags have been around for the last decade and are growing more versatile and universal, spreading past their original platform on Twitter to various social media platforms and websites.
Proper hashtag usage can skyrocket views on your post, creating online forums and generating greater user engagement. Learn the history of the hashtag, it’s various uses, and the best practices and tips on how to include hashtags on your social media.
What Is a Hashtag?
Merriam-Webster defines a hashtag as “a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet).” Hashtags are used primarily on social media platforms to group related content or find similar posts to their own. The hashtag essentially creates a link to every post that has used that same hashtag, including top posts and most recent posts in live time.
The actual hashtag symbol is also called a hash sign, a pound sign, or, formally, an octothorpe. The pound symbol, prior to its rebranding as the hashtag, was primarily used on telephones. Now, the octothorpe is widely known for its function on social media. Since hashtags help your post reach other users that may not follow you, they can be used to spread information or as a marketing technique to connect to a larger audience.
When Were Hashtags Created?
Hashtags were first used and created on Twitter. Twitter launched in 2006, and in 2007 web developer and Twitter user Chris Messina came up with the idea for the hashtag as a way to group related tweets. Twitter initially rejected the idea until a few months later, when Twitter users in San Diego began using hashtags to share updates on forest fires with the hashtag #SanDiegoFire. The rest, as they say, is history.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina 🏴☠️ (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
Since the inception of the hashtag, it has grown from a Twitter-specific tool to a commonly understood and widely used function across a variety of social media platforms. Depending on your intentions and your social media of choice, there are various tips and tricks to best use hashtags.
How to Use Hashtags
To add a hashtag to your post, simply type the hashtag symbol (#) and type the word or phrase that you want to hashtag. Popular suggestions may come up as you type, and you can easily join in on an existing hashtag or create your own unique hashtag.
There are a few rules to follow for your hashtag to work properly:
- Don’t include spaces in your hashtag. The tag only works if the whole hashtag is connected. If you want to hashtag the words “Party Time” for example, you’d use #PartyTime, not #Party Time, which would only create a hashtag for the word party.
- Don’t include punctuation or special characters in your hashtag. This also breaks the link starting where the punctuation occurs, so #Party-Time would also only create the hashtag #Party. Some special characters to avoid: ?, /, *, &, !, +, ., ^. Underscores ( _ ) can be used in hashtags.
- Numbers can be used in hashtags, but a hashtag cannot include solely numbers depending on the platform or website you’re using. For example, you cannot use the hashtag #2019 on Twitter, but #2019Goals works. On Instagram, however, both hashtags would work.
If you’re not creating your own hashtag or using it to share your own content, you can use hashtags to follow specific trends, events, or groups online. To browse through a hashtag, simply use the search bar on the social media platform of your choice and type in what you’re looking for. From there, you can see the top posts using that hashtag as well as the most recent uses all the way back to the first time the hashtag was used.
Tips for Using Hashtags
You may know the technical rules for creating and using a hashtag, but there are many commonly accepted “rules of thumb” to follow as well to ensure that you’re hashtagging in the best possible way.
- Use relevant hashtags: No one wants their social media feeds or hashtag pages clogged with spam or totally irrelevant posts. The hashtag or tags that you use should relate to your content. Think of your audience when hashtagging, and ask yourself, “If I was browsing through this hashtag, would I want to see this post?” If the answer is no, try a different hashtag that better fits your content.
- Consider the length of your hashtag: If you’re looking to share your posts with other users and group it with similar content, the simpler the hashtag, the better. Twitter recommends keeping hashtags at six characters or shorter. Longer hashtags have gone viral, but simplicity is key.
- Consider Clarity: Is the intended content and audience of your hashtag clear? This is another reason that shorter is sweeter when it comes to hashtags. For hashtags containing more than one word or a phrase, it often helps to capitalize the first letter of each word since spaces are not allowed. An example of this could be #StateOfTheUnion instead of #stateoftheunion. A bunch of words mashed together can create confusion or have a totally different meaning to someone else reading it.
- Be Specific: According to Hootsuite, “The more specific you can get with your hashtag, the more targeted your audience will be—and a targeted audience generally means better engagement.” Using broad, generic hashtags may help you reach a larger audience, but your post may get lost in an overpopulated hashtag. Using #food to reach an audience of food-lovers is okay, but a more niche hashtag like #EggsBenedict will improve engagement with a more specific audience and fewer posts to compete with.
Common Hashtags Uses
Hashtags can be whatever you want them to be, but there are some common uses and tropes. Since the hashtag began as a way to group posts, many hashtags are used to create a forum or collect posts related to the same topic.
The first hashtag that really took off, #SanDiegoFire, was used to share information and thoughts on a specific event (the forest fires around San Diego in 2007). Similarly, big events often have specific hashtags. TV Events like the Olympics often create their own hashtag and share it on television so that people watching know to use that hashtag to share their comments.
Politics is a highly hashtagged subject, and social media users often apply hashtags to discuss specific events, laws, or political events
Social justice movements have also gained traction and exposure via hashtags. The famous #MeToo movement that began in 2017 used a hashtag to spread awareness about sexual harassment and assault. The creators of #MeToo have continued this practice with the hashtag #MuteRKelly, using an online platform to share stories and bring support to their movement to end violence against women.
Aside from creating an online community, hashtags are commonly used to promote one’s own posts. Hashtags make your posts easily discoverable by other users, leading to more likes, favorites, retweets, comments, and overall engagement.
Hashtags for Business and Marketing
Social media is a great outlet for businesses to share their brand and market to customers. Smart use of hashtags can help businesses reach new customers and increase exposure to their product or service. There are various ways that hashtags can be used to market a product, service, or brand.
A simple way that hashtags can be used as a marketing tool is by using relevant hashtags to brand posts. A real estate company looking to increase visibility on a post to bring in more clients could use hashtags like #OpenHouse, #NewHome, or #PhiladelphiaRealtor. In many cases, it is helpful to include location to cater to a local audience and find a more targeted audience. Bloggers and online influencers often use these related keywords as hashtags to grow their followers, like #FoodBlogger or #PhillyFoodie.
Creating a branded hashtag specific to your company can generate buzz online and engage with users that may not have otherwise felt inclined to post about your brand. An excellent example of this is Coca-Cola’s hashtags #ShareACoke. Coca-Cola encouraged users to share photos of themselves with their soda, leading to great online exposure as users jumped on the trend.
View this post on Instagram
Some brands will use hashtags for giveaways or sweepstakes, where users can add a certain hashtag to enter the contest and potentially win prizes. Domino’s Pizza held a photo contest where users had to hashtag #PieceOfThePie on a picture that proved their super fandom to win a $10,000 prize. Smaller companies probably can’t afford to give away ten grand, but small prizes are incentive enough to promote their brand online.
Hashtags also offer opportunities for businesses to jump on a viral, high exposure trend. One example of this is the annual hashtag #NationalBestFriendsDay, used in this case by Nintendo to promote their brand and gain some Twitter love for a funny tweet.
Not pictured: Mario and Yoshi’s half-star “BFF” necklaces. Happy #NationalBestFriendsDay! pic.twitter.com/0Ek17yk3G0
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) June 8, 2015
Tone & Funny Hashtags
The intended tone of a hashtag may change its meaning, and hashtags are often meant with comedic or sarcastic inflection. Some hashtags are meant as a sort of afterthought to the actual content of the post, almost like a muffled fake cough gag. In these cases, the hashtag isn’t really intended to start a conversation or to create a group with similar content.
Using hashtags to curate a certain voice online is especially prominent on Twitter. An example of a hashtag used for tone rather than promotion could be adding a #rude at the end of a Tweet complaining about an inconsiderate person, or the #kidding after a sarcastic post.
Since funny hashtags aren’t meant to consolidate related content online, they are often longer than the typical hashtag. The length of your hashtag may add to your joke or act as a parody of users who overdo their hashtagging.
Hashtags for Social Media
Hashtags are used across many social media platforms, but they function differently and follow different trends on different websites. Regardless of your favorite form of social media, hashtags are a popular and useful tool. Learn how to master the hashtag on each unique platform.
Twitter, the original home of the hashtag, is still one of the best-known sites for hashtags. Twitter hashtags are generally used to create conversation threads, since Twitter is largely word-based over pictures. Tweets with only one hashtag have the best rates of engagement, with a large drop off in engagement on tweets using more than two hashtags. Many hashtags used on Twitter are also meant to be funny or sarcastic rather than to start a conversation. Learn how to use Twitter hashtags by clicking here.
Instagram hashtags essentially create folders with all the posts and pictures that use that hashtag. These are largely used to discover new content and follow accounts in line with your own interests. Studies have shown that the magic hashtag number on Instagram is around 9, with optimal engagement and visibility on posts with 9 relevant, well-chosen hashtags. Instagram also allows users to follow hashtags now like they would friends or accounts, curating a feed of posts using that hashtag for followers. Learn the best practices for hashtagging by following our guide to Instagram hashtags.
Facebook, much like Twitter and Instagram, uses hashtags to group posts containing that hashtag. Hashtags are not as popular on Facebook as they are on other social media platforms, since most Facebook profiles are private and therefore their hashtags would not be exposed on a public hashtag page. Brands and influencers still use Facebook hashtags regularly, however, and social media gurus suggest using only one or two hashtags on this platform. Learn more about Facebook hashtags.
LinkedIn hashtags are growing in popularity and uses. Hashtags can be added to posts much like on other social media platforms to create a page with all posts containing that hashtag. LinkedIn users can follow hashtags related to their careers to see those topics on their feed, like #leadership, #marketing, or #sourcing. Hashtags can help expand your network on LinkedIn and lead to real life opportunities. Grow your professional network and learn more about how to use LinkedIn hashtags.
When creating a post on Tumblr, there is a “Tags” section where you can enter tags on your post. Even if you don’t type the hashtag symbol, Tumblr will add it to the beginning of your tag to group your post with similar content. Hashtags in the body of the post will not work, and no link will be created, so be sure to put your hashtags in the “Tags” section. Tumblr hashtags can help bring more attention to your posts and blog, or help you find similar accounts and content to share.
Pinterest hashtags also group content by topic. Users can add hashtags to their pins or search to find posts related to the topic of that hashtag. Hashtags are only clickable when they are included in the pin description, and you cannot search by hashtag on Pinterest, only by keyword, but the keyword search will bring up results using that hashtag and similar variations.
Popular Hashtag Industries
Some hashtags are more popular than others, and some industries capitalize on hashtags better than others. There are some industries, like fitness, photography, or food, that dominate social media in terms of popularity and total content. Popularity leads to greater traffic, more hashtags, and more opportunities to get your posts noticed by careful use of those hashtags. Bloggers and everyday social media users can use these hashtags to increase exposure on their posts in these trending industries online.
Health and fitness related content has become a hugely popular genre on social media, from meal prep plans and workout videos to before and after photos. Fitness gurus and bloggers generate engagement on their posts by using fitness hashtags. To learn more about how to use fitness hashtags, click here.
Whether you’re creating a punny, hopefully not cringe-worthy, wedding hashtag of your own or sharing your wedding inspiration online via popular hashtags, wedding hashtags are everywhere. Not sure how to use wedding hashtags? SocialBuddy has your guide to the wedding hashtag.
Pictures make up a huge amount of online content, so it’s no surprise that photography hashtags are widely used and hugely popular. To learn about popular photography hashtags and how to get your pictures noticed on social media, check out our top photography hashtags.
From self-proclaimed foodies to food bloggers, everyone loves a good meal. Food-related posts are prominent across social media platforms, and food hashtags make it easy to share posts, find similar content, and discover new restaurants in your area. Learn all about food hashtags by clicking here.
What better way to find inspiration for your next vacation than through social media? Travel hashtags are a great way to find new places, research other travelers’ experiences, and share your own globetrotting. Whether you’re an experienced travel blogger or just looking for your next destination, this guide to travel hashtags is for you.
Makeup and Beauty Hashtags
Beauty bloggers and makeup gurus have take over the internet, from makeup tutorials to skincare bloggers and everything in between. To learn how to promote your beauty accounts or to find the best social media hashtags for makeup inspiration, click here.
Real Estate Hashtags
Looking for a new home? Real estate companies have taken to social media to promote their listings, helping real estate agents find tenants and allowing others to research and find their dream home. Check out this guide to best use real estate hashtags.
Did you even wear your #OOTD if you didn’t post it? Fashion is a trending topic across social media, with Instagram models providing outfit inspiration and bloggers documenting the latest fashion trends. Fashionistas everywhere can benefit from learning how to use the best fashion hashtags.
Up and coming musicians can use social media to promote their music and reach a larger audience of fans. To promote your music, try using these music hashtags.