Hashtags: The Social Media Underdog


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Hashtags have been an invaluable social media tool, ever since its first use on Twitter, where social technology expert Chris Messina is credited to have come up with the very first hashtag, posting a tweet in 2007 reading: “How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp?” Messina created the hashtag with the intention to use it for aggregating discussions online regarding Barcamp, a user-generated technology conference around the world.

Exploding from its start on Twitter, hashtags have transcended their strictly social media use and can be found in today’s pop culture, fashion trends, and even on Jimmy Fallon. They have become infamous in society for satirizing social media and its importance in our everyday lives (#blessed). However, the fact remains that despite its pop culture reputation, hashtags are valuable components of a social media strategy.

There’s still an air of mystery surrounding hashtags: what are they actually used for? How many can you use? Which ones should you use? We sat down with members of our brand team to debunk the hashtag mystery and get insight for this social media enigma.

Why are hashtags so important for a brand’s social media strategy?

Hashtags act as a growth contributor; they expand your engagement, visibility, and, if used correctly, can increase your following. Placing a hashtag in an Instagram post not only gives the audience insight on the topic of the post, but also gives you the ability to join the conversation of that hashtag. For example, if you search the hashtag #onthetable, popular for food posts, you’ll see beautiful entrées, tables covered with dishes, and delectable desserts, all tagged with #onthetable. The benefit of a hashtag is that it’s a searchable, trackable tool—you’re able to find your post among the many included in that section and, more importantly, others are able to find it when they search that particular hashtag.

What are the benefits of hashtags?

Hashtags give you control of where your post goes, how it’s seen, and who sees it. Say you want to be associated with a certain luxury travel aesthetic. By tailoring your post with trending hashtags that focus on luxury travel, you can insert your brand into that particular online conversation. Another benefit of hashtags is the inspiration you can draw from them. Not only can a hashtag introduce you to a new brand or influencer with interesting social media techniques, but they can also help with trend forecasting. With Instagram always changing and evolving, what’s popular in January might not be popular in August.

Where should you use hashtags?

To fully take advantage of them, hashtags should be limited to social media, specifically Instagram. You’ll get the best usage out of hashtags when they’re accompanying an Instagram post, because it’s appropriate/accepted to include more than one in a post. When it comes to Twitter or Facebook, best practices recommend only using a hashtag if it is tailored for a specific campaign, content series, or brand, i.e. #TravelTipTuesday.  

This is because Instagram users actively search the platform using the hashtag as a tool to find posts under a particular category. As a result, when you include more than one hashtag, you better your chances of being found through multiple searches. This practice also looks much cleaner in an Instagram post, where you’re able to hide multiple hashtags in the first comment of the post.

What are some Dos and Don’ts regarding hashtag best practices?

  • Do: Use them on Instagram with topics and inspiration you want to be associated with.
  • Don’t: go overboard with them (even though you can use up to 30 on a post, we don’t recommend using that many).
  • Do: Tag your overarching brand or slogan, especially if your brand has a parent hashtag (i.e. #MarriottHotels or #TravelBrilliantly)
  • Don’t: Use hashtags that are overly popular. If you have a breakfast post going out, we don’t recommend tagging the post with #eggs—that particular hashtag has over 10.5 million posts, and odds are your post won’t be seen.
  • Do: Include hashtags on Instagram Stories. They’ll aggregate into a larger conversation that lives outside your feed and your followers.
  • Don’t: insert a luxury brand into a conversation where the type of person isn’t your ideal traveler. You want to be associated with the right audience.

Where does this leave us?

An underrated social media tool, hashtags are essential to being part of the digital conversation. If you’re a small, growing brand, they’re vital to boosting your engagement and expanding your audience. If you’re a large brand that has already amassed a considerable following, hashtags allow you to introduce new topics and ideas to your audience. Whatever your brand, audience, or strategy, using hashtags effectively is your key to success on social. Trust us, you’re well on your way to #winning.

Special thanks to BCV’s Brand Team for their help with this post and their invaluable knowledge on hashtags!

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