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The purpose of the hashtag on social media

Posted by John Igglesden

The purpose of the hashtag on social mediaRepresented by the pound symbol (#), the simplest explanation of the hashtag is that it is a method used to organise and hence promote content on social media. Originally started on Twitter, the hashtag has quite successfully taken over on both Twitter and Instagram, as well as being used on other social media channels with less success.

So, what does a hashtag actually do? When you add a hashtag to your social media post, your post gets grouped with all the other posts that have also got that hashtag. Make sense? People will also use hashtags to add an extra layer of information to their post. When someone adds #lovesummer to their post they are most likely just adding an extra thought to their message, without the intention of collecting their post with all the others with #lovesummer. So what is the purpose of the hashtag on social media? Let's first look at a few things to note when you are writing your hashtags.

A hashtag:

  • Must have no spaces, punctuation marks or special characters.
  • Must start with the pound or hash symbol (#).
  • Isn’t case sensitive (#PerthIsFun is the same hashtag as #perthisfun).

Hashtags are used across a variety of different social media platforms. The most popular platforms for hashtag use are by far Twitter and Instagram. Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest also have the hashtag function but they are not as widely used. They all perform the same basic function across the different platforms.

Let’s say I draft a tweet talking about a holiday I’m on and I add the hashtag #sydneyoperahouse. Now when people search for #sydneyoperahouse, my post will come up. And it’s as simple as that. Another great example of hashtag use is for weddings on Instagram. If a bride and groom want the wedding goers to capture moments from their special day, they will create a unique hashtag. They then ask their guests to tag their wedding related posts on Instagram with the hashtag so the happy couple have a collection of photos at the end of the day. A big issue that can arise with hashtags is that they are non-exclusive and can be tagged and used by anyone. #wedding would not be a good choice but #calisebigday2017 (for the wedding of a couple named Caleb and Elise for example) would be effective.

From this simple description, you may be struggling to see the initial benefits of hashtags, but dig a little deeper and you will see why they are so important. The humble hashtag can help you reach your audience and engage with them more effectively. In fact, Tweets with a hashtag have twice as much engagement as tweets without. They not only increase your engagement but make it easier for you to see what your competitors and the market in general are up to. By searching relevant hashtags across different platforms, you can see what is trending, what your audience is talking about and what your competitors are posting.

So how many hashtags should I put on my post? It’s different for each social media channel so let’s start with Twitter. One hashtag is often the best but two is usually fine as well, anymore and you will start to hurt your engagement. I would also suggest no more than one or two hashtags on a Facebook post, although unfortunately there has been a move away from using hashtags on Facebook and most pages will not include hashtags at all. You can apply hashtags much more liberally on Instagram with some users posting more than twenty hashtags per post! The danger here is making your caption look spammy and clogged, so either post them in the comments below or leave a gap between your caption and hashtags. Posting on Pinterest, Google+ and Tumblr will almost always be more helpful than not, but in my experience I have seen many social media marketers ignore these platforms due to lack of returns. Please don’t let that stop you experimenting and finding what is right for you. Your customer base may be made up of only Google+ users!

If you want to learn more about social media, download our free ebook on social media.

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This blog was written by John Igglesden

As an Account Coordinator at imageseven, John’s days are filled with anything from blog and content writing to preparing inbound marketing campaigns. Away from the office you find him drinking coffee or craft beer and discussing clothes, cars and guitars.


Topics: Education, Social media, imageseven, Communication, Online marketing, Marcom, School marketing strategy, School marketing