Marketers everywhere are wondering—are hashtags a dying art form?
It used to be relatively easy to snap a picture, throw on one of Instagram’s pre-made filters (remember using those?), and add a few cute hashtags (we loved a #throwbackthursday post). Now, social media marketing has gotten just a little more complicated.
With every new social media platform comes a new algorithm and set of rules for achieving success. First, we had Facebook, then Instagram, Twitter, and in the last few years, TikTok has changed the way people think about algorithms and developing an audience.
If we’re being honest, an effective hashtag strategy could be taught as its own college course. Unfortunately, there are no magic tricks to succeed (if only!). But luckily, we’ve done the work to become subject matter experts and synthesize all of this information into something easy for you to learn from and understand.
If you and your company feel overwhelmed by the constant, ever-changing nature of social media, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.
Why You Should Still Use Hashtags
Hashtags are used to guarantee a certain level of visibility for your content on social media. But like all tools, they need to be used correctly to be truly effective.
On some social media platforms, you can even follow specific hashtags centered around the type of content you’re already interested in. For example, some of our employees at Zen follow hashtags around houseplant care and maintenance, and others enjoy following hashtags about glamping or great mountain weekend getaways. That’s the beauty of social media—through who you follow, you can see and learn more about the type of content you’d typically have to spend time searching for.
…But Use Them Wisely
Great hashtags will help you grow your reach, and the wrong ones will stunt your account’s growth and influence.
As with everything in marketing, it’s essential to think through every step you take. Want to label your post with a trending hashtag? Go for it! Just make sure it relates to your topic or target audience.
Hashtags that relate to what you’re posting about give you a greater likelihood of reaching the type of person who is already interested in your content. This should be a no-brainer strategy for marketers, but you would be surprised how many posts we see that use hashtags unrelated to their topic or target audience.
Take time to research hashtags related to your topic, then look at how many people follow or post on that specific hashtag. There is usually a sweet spot here—you have less of a chance of being seen when you use a hashtag with millions of posts. But you don’t want to make it hyper-specific to the point where no one can find you.
Let’s use Zen Media as an example. If we want to grow the reach of our Instagram account (and of course we do!), we will want to include hashtags in our posts. Keep in mind that the hashtags people search for or follow are more often hashtags like #marketing rather than a brand-specific hashtag, like #zenmarketing. You have a much better chance of reaching a broader, more diverse audience by using a generic hashtag. The idea here is to first get your audience “through the door” to your brand before they’re introduced to products or mindsets that they may be unfamiliar with or resistant to.
An Effective Hashtag Strategy
Well, class, where to begin? Let’s start with the basics.
When you’re typing out a hashtag, always begin hashtagged words or phrases (“hashtags,” for short) with the “#” sign and omit any spaces, punctuation, symbols, or emojis. (If you wish to use these, save them for the end of the hashtag; otherwise, your hashtag will be disabled or cut short.)
Keep it short and sweet. Don’t string too many words together. The best hashtags tend to be relatively short and easy to remember. If you do use a long series of words, capitalize the first letter of each word to increase readability.
Use relevant and specific/niche hashtags. While you can use hashtags for stylistic emphasis if your goal is to effectively lead your audience to your brand and showcase its expertise, the use of uncommon hashtags doesn’t make much sense from a marketing perspective.
While you might be inclined to use only brand-specific hashtags, it’s important to also use niche hashtags related to better reach people who haven’t heard of the brand in question.
Get Platform Specific
Hashtags are used on every platform, but some favor them more than others. Instagram remains the number one app for hashtags, as they are part of its primary search function. Platforms like Twitter used to be great for hashtags, but as it has developed, it’s better only to use hashtags that are trending. It’s okay to lay off the pound key once in a while.
Let’s get into the numbers. Knowing what hashtags are considered “broad,” “small,” or somewhere in between can be overwhelming. Here’s how we define it:
Broad: 100 million+ posts
Large: 30-100 million
Medium: 300K-30 million
Overall, hashtags aren’t quite as “en vogue” on Twitter and Facebook as they are on Instagram and TikTok. But it’s still important to know what works for which platform.
TikTok gives you the ability to search hashtags and how often they are used, much like Instagram. Some research indicates that nine hashtags per TikTok video is best for account growth on this platform. We recommend using one super broad hashtag, two that are considered large, two medium, two small, and two micro. This makes sure you have all of your bases covered.
In general, we don’t use generic hashtags like #marketing on Twitter because it’s too broad. Also, platforms have gotten so clever with their algorithms that it’s simply not as necessary. It’s more important to optimize the content for each platform, so it’s more likely to get served up to the right audience at the right time (all thanks to the algorithm).
How To Use Hashtags on Instagram
As we mentioned before, hashtags are still a primary search function on Instagram. If you want to get hashtag happy, we recommend starting there. It’s a great platform to experiment with what does and doesn’t work for your brand or company.
Hashtag strategy for Instagram is more specialized than on other platforms. For example, the size of the hashtag you use depends on your number of followers.
0–1k Followers: 20 small, 10 medium
1–10k Followers: 20 small, 8 medium, 2 big
10–50k Followers: 15 small, 10 medium, 5 big
50k+ Followers: 10 small, 15 medium, 5 big
Keep in mind that hashtag “size” has nothing to do with the character length but instead with the level of competition it faces. In other words, how many people are also using the hashtag, and how many times have they used it? Small hashtags have 0–250k posts, medium hashtags have 250k–1m posts, and big hashtags boast over 1 million posts. I think it’s safe to say that with all of this vital information out there, hashtags are far from being a dying art form. They just need to be used correctly.
While this can seem overwhelming at first, marketers need to understand the distinction between platforms. The algorithm never sleeps, and it’s constantly shifting to give us the content we want to see. Getting ahead of the trends and changes via hashtags is an excellent way for companies to ensure their message reaches their target audience.
Does this all sound a bit too complicated? We can help. Contact us if you want a little help with your hashtagging.