Tic-tac-toe. Pound sign. Number sign. Octothorpe!? The hashtag: what the heck is it really?
In the beginning… way back in 1988, the hashtag as we know it was used on a platform known as Internet Relay Chat or IRC. Ever heard of that one? They were used then in much the same way they are today, for grouping messages, images, content, and videos into categories.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Chris Messina proposes the use of hashtags more broadly in an otherwise innocent tweet in 2007:
“How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?“
Initially decried by Twitter as a "thing for nerds,” the use of the hashtag as a metadata tag on social networks took off like wild-fire soon after another Twitter user, Nate Ridder of San Diego, CA, started appending all his posts with the hashtag #sandiegofire, in an effort to inform people worldwide about ongoing wildfires in the area at the time.
A blogger named Steve Boyd is said to have coined the word “hashtag” in a blog post around the same time, and as these things go, it didn’t take long for the hashtag to literally “break the internet,” as they say.
These days, you couldn’t post, view, troll, or publish online without tripping over one!
In short, #hashtags allow users to apply any number of dynamic, unique, user-generated tags establishing connections or “grouping” thematically related content, making it possible for users to easily find the content they’re interested in.
I would never say the hashtag is a “thing for nerds,” not in the slightest, but that’s not to say everyone is as familiar and comfortable with their use and usefulness.
“How many is too many in a post”
“Too many” is really just subjective, but you don’t want to lose your audience in a sea of hashtags and links. Instagram only allows for 30 hashtags on any given post, and Twitter maxes out at 240 characters, regardless of how many hashtags you’ve embedded in your tweet.
Facebook, Reddit, and other platforms may not use hashtags quite as universally, nor impose any limits on their use at all, but that doesn’t mean you want to fill your audiences feed with hashtags.
My rule of thumb for those without a direct social media marketing strategy would be no more than 12, but generally between 1-5 hashtags per post, and to make those as compelling and relevant as possible.
Important Note: The # has to be connected to the word or phrase to be considered a hashtag and be linkable. No spaces. For example: #blog #socialmedia #socialmediamarketing
“Which hashtags should I be using?”
How about a story… A new family just moves into the area and are looking for a family-friendly ski resort to check out. Browsing through their Instagram feed on a break from unpacking, they see a great photo of a family on a ski slope. Reading on, they see the hashtags #skiday #familyfun #bestskiinginvt #sugarbushvt. One click on #sugarbushvt and suddenly they’re connected to countless images, posts, and stories about Sugarbush Resort!
The hashtags the user chose were related directly to the subject matter of the photo, the location, and they’re experience. I highly recommend using location-based hashtags if you’re looking to get discovered – #hubcity #greenmountains #northeastkingdom.
Still not sure? Next time you’re browsing through Instagram, click the “search” icon (the little magnifying glass at the bottom). Type a hashtag into the search bar at the top of the page and see what pops up. This will give you a lot of insight into how people and businesses are being discovered based simply on their hashtags.
It can also be a good idea to search hashtags when you’re considering attaching one to your post. #twoforone may not connect your posts with exactly the content you’re thinking of for your annual holiday sale.
Hashtags are like the keys to the kingdom, when used proficient and professionally, they can unlock doors to all kinds of connections and contacts.
· Hashtags increase the reach of each of your Instagram and Twitter posts.
· Hashtags allow you to find others people or business with similar interests.
· Hashtags are a great way to express your personality and the personality of your business or organization.
Start tagging! You’ll get the hang of it in no time.