If your business has a social media presence, you’re probably already using hashtags. But are you using them correctly? If you use them strategically, hashtags can help you engage with your existing audience and attract new followers.

A #hashtag is the pound sign, followed by a keyword with no spaces in between. Hashtags are a simple way to organize or filter content related to a specific topic or event. When you add a hashtag to your post caption, you’re telling readers that your content is related to that keyword.

History of the Hashtag

According to Buffer Blog, the hashtag was first brought to Twitter on August 23, 2007 by Chris Messina. Before this, the hash (or pound) symbol had been used in various ways around the web, which helped Chris in developing his proposal for using hashtags on Twitter.

In an interview, Chris Messina shared that “in the beginning people really hated [hashtags]! People didn’t understand why we needed hashtags, and the biggest complaint was that people just didn’t like how they looked.”

Read the rest of the origin story here: https://buffer.com/resources/a-concise-history-of-twitter-hashtags-and-how-you-should-use-them-properly/

What are Hashtags used for today?

Today, hashtags are a critical part of a successful social media strategy. Born on Twitter, hashtags are now used on every major social media platform including Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube as a way to organize content.

How to use Hashtags correctly
There are 3 different categories of hashtags:

Content Hashtags – Content hashtags relate to your field or industry. They are not trending or brand-specific – they are simply a way to join new conversations and reach new users in your general area of expertise.

For example, if you are an interior designer, your content hashtags might include #kitchendesign #interiordesign #bathroomdesign #designerinspired, etc. These hashtags aren’t unique to you, but they do relate to the content you’re posting.

Trending Hashtags – Trending hashtags are related to a recent popular conversation. According to MeetEdgar, “[trending hashtags] can help you increase your reach but be careful with joining trending hashtags. Make sure you do your research to find out why something is trending before you start using the tag so you don’t misinterpret why something is trending which can lead to some major social media blunders.”

You wouldn’t want to use #wcw to refer to a post on World Championship Wrestling if that hashtag more recently and/or accurately represents content around “Women Crush Wednesday.”

Some other examples of trending hashtags include #tbt (throwback Thursday), #shoplocal, #metoo, and #ootd (outfit of the day).

Branded Hashtags – Your business can (and should) create one or two hashtags specific to your brand. You should use these on your posts and encourage your followers to use them as well. If used correctly, branded hashtags can do wonders for brand visibility.

Some notable examples include Coca-Cola’s #shareacoke campaign and Calvin Klein’s #mycalvins campaign.

To find the best hashtags for your brand, you’ll have to do a little research.

You should look at which hashtags your competitors are using. Your followers probably connect with other similar accounts (and since they are also your audience, they will probably use hashtags that are relevant to everyone else in your audience!)

Another way to discover new relevant hashtags, is to put yourself in your buyer’s shoes and search for relevant topics. For example, when you search for “kitchen redesign” your results will include related hashtags, which you can then click on and explore in more detail.

Read: How to Create Buyer Personas and Why They’re Important for Branding Now More Than Ever

How to use Hashtags on Different Platforms

Each social media platform utilizes hashtags differently, so it’s important to understand how the guidelines vary.

For example, Instagram warn against “posting repetitive comments or content” so split your hashtags into a few groups and mix them up on a regular basis. Each group should have a variety of content, trending and branded hashtags.

The debate over how many hashtags to use per post is contentious. According to Hootsuite, “there’s no right number of hashtags for every business, or even for every post by the same business.” Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags, but the consensus is that about 11 hashtags is a good number to start with. The most common number of hashtags to use on Instagram is between one and three.

To measure the effectiveness of your hashtags, you can select the “View Insights” button at the bottom of your post and scroll down, you can see how much of your reach is from hashtags. If your reach starts to decline, it may be time to search out some new hashtags.

Now that you’ve got the knowledge to succeed with hashtags, start exploring your social media platforms and working on a list of hashtags, from the three different categories, that you can incorporate into future posts.

Hashtags can be an effective way to engage with your audience and gain new followers, and they are fun to use. Happy hashtagging!