A Guide to Using Hashtags on Social Networks

Learn How Hashtags Work on Various Channels

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Hashtag use guide for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Musical.ly.

How many Instagram hashtags are too many? Does it even make sense to use hashtags on Facebook? Are hashtags now happening on LinkedIn or not?

It’s easy to feel confused by how differently hashtags work on various channels. So we put together a short guide with a focus on brands for five of the most popular channels — plus one of the newer and interesting trending channels, Musical.ly.

We’ll look at the peculiarities and hashtag etiquette of each network and the best practices for using hashtags to boost your reach.

How to Use Hashtags on Twitter

Twitter is mainly used for current and topical conversations, both locally and globally. News, cultural happenings, and even gossip often start trending on Twitter. Citizen journalism and awareness for issues feed on the immediacy of the channel. Furthermore, Twitter is an important place for customer service by brands.

It‘s no surprise that hashtags are still relevant on Twitter. After all, when hashtags really caught on, it was on Twitter. Twitter turns hashtags into links that lead to a search results page for the hashtag. Consequently, they’re a great discovery tool for new content.

Hashtags on Twitter are a good tool for content discovery.
Clicking on a hashtag leads you to search results, which also include suggestions for related searches, allowing you discover new content even more easily.

Research shows that using some hashtags (as opposed to none) will get you seen more on Twitter. The number of hashtags to use, however, is smaller than on Instagram. Overuse will be frowned upon and hashtag-laden tweets are easily dismissed as spam messages.

Ideally, use 1–2 hashtags. After all, you’ve only got 140 characters at your disposal anyway, so you wouldn’t want to take up too much of that space with hashtags. Because while photos and GIFs no longer count towards the 140-character limit, hashtags still very much do.

When choosing hashtags, capitalise for readability, pick up on weekly hashtags and trending hashtags, but never to the point of looking like a spammer.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram is a good place for businesses to raise brand awareness and engage their existing community of customers and supporters. It also lends itself well to competitions and helps with social discovery of products.

Hashtags are very important for discovery on Instagram. Just like on Twitter, hashtags turn into links which then show search results for use of that hashtag. People very much use hashtags to discover more content from people with similar interests, which often leads to likes and sometimes even to new followers. Banding together via hashtags is especially prevalent among frequent travellers, fashionistas, etc.

On Instagram, even hashtags that would seem too generic on other platforms can help you get views and likes, but the clue is walking the line between hashtags so popular that they’re overused and a hashtag that’s so overly specific that no one else will use it.

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post. Using multiple hashtags leads to good results, but more than 10 may end up looking like spam. Supposedly, around 7 hashtags per post are a good measure.

When a brand is still new to Instagram, it should use popular hashtags that fit the brand to drive traffic. Once a presence as been established, brands should create unique hashtags for their posts, including a long-term main hashtag which will often simply be the brand name, e.g. #Nike.

Popular brands often create unique hashtags as needed, be it for a new product line or a specific marketing campaign. Those are then used in conjunction with the main brand hashtag.

Brands on Instagram should use their unique brand hashtags as well as popular hashtags.
Cosmetics brand Urban Decay always uses the main brand hashtag #UrbanDecay and supplements specific unique hashtags related to the image and product shown. #UDxBasquiat is used for a collection inspired by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, while #LipStickIsMyVice alludes to Urban Decay’s lipstick palette called Vice.

Use a mix of your brand name as a hashtag plus your unique brand hashtag, and then add a few community-focused hashtags so those interested can find you. For example, if you’re producing sports-related products, #fitness could work for you. Research hashtags and experiment to find what works best for you and your brand.

Remember to use capitalisation for readability and follow Instagram etiquette: use #regram when you’re sharing someone else’s grams and ask permission before sharing posts from your fans on your brand’s account.

You can also jump on board with themed hashtags like weekly hashtags, e.g. #tbt for ThrowBackThursday. Hashtags relating to certain aesthetics can also drive traffic, for example, one of Instagram’s most popular hashtags #nofilter — for when your photos are so great they don’t even need a filter.

How to Use Hashtags on Facebook

Traffic on Facebook is more and more paid instead of organic, but the popular platform is still fertile ground for brands thanks to ample and varied opportunities for ads and social marketing. The addition of Facebook Live has opened up the world of live video marketing. And with Marketplace, Facebook has incorporated a social commerce layer.

There just this one thing… Facebook and hashtags have a complicated relationship. In 2015, Facebook retired its hashtag API which made it a lot harder for apps like Walls.io to fetch posts via hashtags.

And while hashtags do turn into links, Facebook’s intricate privacy settings often make search results for hashtags turn out rather meagre. For example, you and I might use the same hashtag on Facebook, but we’d never find each other’s posts unless we’re both posting them with the public setting.

Of course, everything that is posted publicly can still be found via search, so brands can still use hashtags on their pages. But if they want to find content with their hashtag posted by fans, they can only do so when it’s actually public content. Furthermore, hashtags used in comments, public or not, don’t show up in search either.

When running a marketing campaign with hashtags on Facebook, inform your fans that in order to be seen by you, they need to make their posts with your hashtag public.

As an alternative, many brands now opt to run hashtag campaigns and competitions on their own pages, asking people to post their entries there using the hashtag or simply by posting in the comments of the brand’s post.

This is also how Walls.io solved the API problem: you can add your brand’s Facebook pages to your social media hub and then further specify which content gets displayed via hashtags or keywords. This way you can still include your hashtag campaign content from Facebook on your social wall.

With Walls.io you can still display Facebook posts on your social hub.
To display content from Facebook on your social wall with Walls.io, add a Facebook page in your Walls.io sources and then filter for a specific hashtag. Only posts with that hashtag will be shown.

Facebook does create unique URLs for hashtags, where all posts with that hashtag are collected, e.g. facebook.com/hashtag/socialmedia for #socialmedia. It can be worth it for a brand to create a unique hashtag and then specifically drive traffic to that page where people automatically use that hashtag when posting.

Did you know Facebook creates custom URLs for hashtags?
If I click in the field to update my status while on the facebook.com/hashtag/socialmedia page, it automatically appends the hashtag to my post. This can work well for brands who’ve created unique hashtags!

Keep in mind, though, that in order for posts to show up in search they will still have to be posted with the public setting. So while hashtags aren’t exactly dead on Facebook, don’t overdo it and don’t expect too much in the way of results.

How to Use Hashtags on Pinterest

Thanks to its niche as a platform for curating a lifestyle, Pinterest is pretty much geared at social commerce. Brands have excellent marketing options that tie into sales through rich pins and buyable pins.

First off, hashtags are different on Pinterest. They do turn to links but aren’t an effective way to be discovered on Pinterest. This is because hashtags link to search results for that keyword (not the hashtag itself) or a similar keyword, which can lead people away from your pins instead of to your pins.

Search results on Pinterest can generally be a bit volatile, and a search launched by clicking on a hashtag will sometimes give too many irrelevant results or no results at all. For example, clicking on #illustration will lead to a search for illustrations and #infographic won‘t lead to other pins tagged with that but rather to a search for infographics of wildly varying content. So less than ideal as a tool of discovery and thus pretty useless to brands hoping to jump on board with trending content.

Search function and hashtags are still quite volatile on Pinterest.
An example of the volatility of search on Pinterest: Clicking on the hashtag #infographic has led me directly to search results for infographics, which Pinterest interprets as a type.

Furthermore, using too many hashtags on Pinterest may impact your ranking negatively.

The best course of action is to use hashtags sparingly and with an emphasis on unique hashtags created by you for your brand. Make sure your unique hashtag is free from common search terms and then use that hashtag consistently, so when you click on the hashtag, what will show up in search is all the pins from your campaign.

How to Use Hashtags on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is different from other social networks, in that it’s focused on careers and is used mostly for career-related sharing. It’s less about brands carrying a message and more about employees sharing and amplifying employer content.

Also: talk about a complicated relationship with hashtags! LinkedIn used to have hashtags, then did away with them in 2013, and then ultimately added the functionality back in the summer of 2016 — first only on mobile, later also for desktop users. So are hashtags on LinkedIn here to stay this time? Only time will tell. For now, they’re happening.

What’s interesting is that hashtags on LinkedIn are not just connected to status updates but also to LinkedIn’s built-in publishing platform where you can add hashtags to your articles before publishing. So when you click on a hashtag or search for one, articles tagged with that same hashtag will also show up in the search results. Sadly at the moment, this doesn’t work vice versa, meaning hashtags in LinkedIn articles aren’t links.

Speaking of clickable hashtags, here’s an oddity which we found almost by accident when one of our team insisted hashtags on LinkedIn didn’t work: hashtags seem to only work in English! If you use LinkedIn in another language than English, you can’t click on hashtags. I’ve tried it out again myself with German and Italian.

When you use LinkedIn in English, hashtags are now clickable and linked.
Using LinkedIn with English language settings? Sure, go ahead, enjoy some clickable hashtags.
If you use LinkedIn in languages other than English, hashtags aren’t clickable and linked.
LinkedIn set to German or Italian? U NO CLICKY!

As with Facebook, LinkedIn has complicated privacy settings, so keep that in mind when using hashtags. Your hashtagged posts will show up in search if your public profile is set so anyone can view it. The same goes for your LinkedIn-published articles, by the way.

New and trending: How to Use Hashtags on Musical.ly

Musical.ly revolves around a super short video format. Originally it was a bit like Dubsmash, with users recording themselves lip-syncing and dancing to popular tunes. Over time, Musical.ly has expanded to include much much more, from comedy content to marketing opportunities.

It’s definitely an up-and-coming channel most popular with teenagers (about 60% of the user base are between 13 and 24 years old) and sees around 12 million videos uploaded every day.

Musical.ly is of interest to a lot of marketers because of its young demographic. Teenagers already have a lot of sway over their parents’ buying decisions but furthermore, today’s teenager’s will be tomorrow’s buyers.

Musical.ly uses hashtags much like Instagram or Twitter. “Musers” (as Musical.ly users call themselves) add them before uploading their video and the hashtags then turn into links that let you discover more content. There’s also a search function that allows you to search for hashtags.

Musical.ly, a social media network aimed mostly at teenagers, has varied search functions, making hashtags worthwhile.
You can search Musical.ly for keywords or hashtags or discover content via popular videos, categories or trending tags.

On the search screen, you can browse popular hashtags and categories. And similar to weekly hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, Musical.ly has so-called challenges, e.g. #WeekendComedySkit, #AdultHoodExpectationVsReality, or even Selena Gomez’ own #KillEmWithKindness challenge as promotion for her new single.

This is where Musical.ly gets interesting for marketers. Much like on Vine (R.I.P), marketing efforts for brands on Musical.ly lie with influencer marketing. The way to reach the fanbase is by sponsoring one of the popular musers rather than brands having their own accounts. Of course, Musical.ly makes the most sense for brands that have a meaningful connection to music.

If you venture into Musical.ly, here’s the lowdown on hashtag use: Captions on Musical.ly overlay the videos, so the point is to not use too many hashtags. Musers also like to include popular hashtags like #FeatureMe (an application to get featured by Musical.ly) or country/location hashtags in their posts.

Content from Musical.ly can be shared publicly (unless a profile is private) but the app has not yet released an API. ? Else we’d already have Musical.ly on our list of Walls.io networks for you to display on your social walls.

Know what works and make the best of it

While hashtag use does differ from network to network, a few ground rules appear everywhere: Consider how hashtags work on each platform. Then research what’s popular. And finally, find the right balance between too few and too many hashtags for your posts. Some things, like the fact that hashtag use on Facebook has been seriously curbed, you will just have to accept.

These are also good steps to take in a continuously changing social media landscape. New platforms shoot up all the time, and when adopting a new tool, simply have a look at what your key demographics are doing on there and how they are using hashtags. Then take it from there.