Originally published on Forbes.com.
Whether you’re a social media newbie or a seasoned pro, hashtags can be a powerful tool for businesses looking to increase their online presence.
Let’s start by defining hashtags. A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the pound sign (#). Used on social media, hashtags help to categorize content and make it easier to find. They can also help a business reach a wider target audience and promote engagement.
For example, if your business is posting about a new line of essential oils on Instagram, you might use the hashtag #EssentialOils to make it easier for people who are interested in such products to find your post.
Based on our experience overseeing social media efforts for our clients, here are a few tips for getting more out of hashtags:
Choose the right hashtags.
It’s important to choose the right hashtags—ones that are not only relevant to your business or product but that your audience would look for when they’re using social media. If you’re a bakery, for example, you might use hashtags like #BakedGoods, #yum and #foodiegram to reach people who are interested in delicious treats. It’s also a good idea to see what hashtags your competitors are using. This can provide ideas for hashtags that might work well for your business. Finally, don’t forget to use your business or product name as a hashtag. This leads us to my next tip.
Use branded hashtags.
Branded hashtags are specific to your business. They can be used to promote a specific product or campaign or just to promote your brand in general. For example, Target uses the hashtags #Target, #TargetRun and #TargetFinds and encourages customers to use them to share their recent Target experiences and purchases.
Branded hashtags are a great way to create a sense of community around your brand and encourage your customers to share their experiences with your products. We’ll discuss monitoring branded hashtags a bit further down in this article, but first, let’s talk numbers.
Don’t overdo it.
While hashtags can be a powerful tool in your social media marketing efforts, it’s important not to overuse them. Using too many hashtags can make your posts look spammy and, according to a HubSpot report, can actually decrease engagement. There has even been a debate within the social media marketing community about whether using hashtags on platforms like Facebook is appropriate.
With every expert article on hashtags providing varying advice on how many to use on each platform, based on my years of experience, on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s best to start small with three to five hashtags and test different amounts and variations to see what works and what resonates with your audience. As for Facebook, limit their use to only when appropriate, such as holidays or a specific product campaign, as they clutter up posts, and we’ve never seen positive results in A/B testing their use.
By monitoring your branded hashtags on social media, you will learn not only how much engagement they’re generating, but also whether or not they’re helping you achieve your marketing goals and more about customer brand sentiment. This information can help you make informed decisions about your social media strategy, ensure that your branded hashtags are making an impact, and even provide feedback (and identify issues) on your brand, product or services.
This should go without saying, but any article on hashtag best practices would be amiss to not mention it: Do not participate in hashtag hijacking. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it is a poor social media practice where unrelated hashtags, usually trending hashtags, are used in social media posts to gain visibility. Most of the time, this occurs on subpar or unsavory content. There have been instances of brands using hashtags in this manner and with backlash not too far behind. Keep your hashtags on brand and on point.
When used correctly, hashtags can be a powerful tool for businesses trying to increase their online presence and engage with their audience. By choosing the right hashtags, using branded hashtags, not overdoing it, using hashtags in social media copy and monitoring your hashtags, you can make hashtags work for your business. So, get out there and start hashtagging. Just make sure to do it responsibly.