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How to Use Hashtags Effectively

A Guide to Using Hashtags on Social Networks

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A product or website design planning board with lots of overlapping notes and drawings on individual white pieces of paper affixed to it. A person’s hand is using a black pen to point to a yellow piece of paper with a white hashtag on it.

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 get confused by the different ways hashtags work on various social media networks. So we put together a short guide for the most popular platforms that use hashtags.

How to use hashtags on Twitter
How to use hashtags on Instagram
How to use hashtags on Facebook
How to use hashtags on Pinterest
How to use hashtags on LinkedIn
How to use hashtags on YouTube

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

Gather hashtag content from various social networks

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How to Use Hashtags on Twitter

Should you use hashtags: yes
Recommended number of hashtags per tweet: 1–2
Are hashtags hyperlinked: yes

Hashtags on Twitter are hyperlinked and a popular tool to bundle conversations around trending topics, Twitter chats, marketing campaigns, breaking news, etc.  It‘s no surprise that hashtags are still relevant on Twitter. After all, when hashtags first really caught on, it was on Twitter.

On Twitter, hashtags are a great discovery tool for new content. Hashtags automatically turn into links, which lead to a search results page for other tweets using the same hashtag. This also includes suggestions for related searches, allowing you to discover new content even more easily.

Research shows that using some hashtags (as opposed to none) will get you seen more on Twitter. However, hashtag overuse will be frowned upon, and hashtag-laden tweets are easily dismissed as spam messages.

It’s recommended to use hashtags sparingly, about 1–2 per Tweet. You’ve got limited space per tweet 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 280-character limit, hashtags still very much do.

When choosing hashtags for your brand, use Hashtagify to find the right hashtags that will help you maximise reach. Chime in on weekly hashtags and trending hashtags, where it fits — but never to the point of looking like a spammer.

It also helps to use camel case for your hashtags if it consists of multiple words — both for readability and to make your tweets more accessible, as screen-readers will read the words individually instead of stringing them together into one long, incoherent word, which is what happens if you don’t capitalise.

How to Use Hashtags on Instagram

Should you use hashtags: yes
Recommended number of hashtags per post: 7–10
Are hashtags hyperlinked: yes

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 on Instagram serve as a content discovery tool and are widely used. Just like on Twitter, hashtags turn into links which then show search results for posts that also use the hashtag.

Instagrammers very much like to 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.

You can also follow hashtags on Instagram, much like you would follow a profile. Plus, you can add clickable hashtags to your profile bio and your Instagram Stories as well.

On Instagram, even hashtags that would seem too generic on other platforms can help you get views and likes, but the clue is straddling the line between hashtags so popular that they’re overused and hashtags so overly specific that no one else has used them.

The number of hashtags per post is much higher than on Twitter. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post. Using multiple hashtags leads to good results and 7–10 hashtags per post are seen as best practice. But more than ten on one post may end up looking like spam.

To keep your captions clean, post your hashtags as the first comment of your post. Your post will still be filed under the hashtags, and it looks better than to cram them into your Instagram caption.

There is also (unconfirmed) talk about Instagram planning a dedicated section for hashtags, which would solve that problem of having to post them separately in the first comment.

You can also jump on board with themed hashtags like weekly hashtags, e.g. #tbt for ThrowBackThursday. Hashtags relating to a particular aesthetic can also drive traffic, for example, one of Instagram’s most popular hashtags is #nofilter — for when your photos are so great, they don’t even need a filter. And remember to use capitalisation for readability and accessibility.

Hashtag generator tools, like this one, this one or this one, can help you figure out which hashtags are best for your photos and keywords.

How to Use Hashtags on Facebook

Should you use hashtags: depends
Recommended number of hashtags per post: 1–2
Are hashtags hyperlinked: sort of

Hashtags are less effective on Facebook than other platforms, as the network’s stringent privacy settings prevent hashtagged posts from showing up in search unless their visibility is set to “public”.

Of course, everything that is posted publicly can still be found via search, so brands can still use hashtags on their pages. Facebook also creates unique URLs for hashtags, where all posts with that hashtag are collected, e.g. facebook.com/hashtag/socialmedia for #socialmedia. It can be worthwhile for a brand to create a unique hashtag and then specifically drive traffic to that page.

But if you want to find content with your hashtag posted by fans, you 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.

So when running a marketing campaign with hashtags on Facebook, you’ll need to inform your fans that to be seen by you, they need to make their posts with your hashtag public. Overall, this can take a lot of effort and can hamper participation, especially when dealing with a less tech-savvy fanbase.

To make things even more difficult, Facebook discontinued its hashtag API in 2015. This means that apps like Walls.io can’t fetch posts via hashtag anymore, making Facebook posts relatively useless outside of the platform itself.

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.

To get that content to show up on your social wall, you can simply add your brand’s Facebook page as a source and then further specify which content gets displayed, using 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.

So while hashtags aren’t exactly dead on Facebook, don’t expect too much in the way of results and, rather, find ways around hashtags for your Facebook campaigns.

How to Use Hashtags on Pinterest

Should you use hashtags: in most cases, it’s safer not to
Recommended number of hashtags per post: 1
Are hashtags hyperlinked: yes and no

Hashtags on Pinterest can be hella confusing! They are hyperlinked. However, they don’t link to search results for the hashtag itself but rather to a search for the keyword — or a similar keyword, which can lead people away from your pins instead of to your pins. This makes hashtag use on Pinterest a bit unpredictable.

Search results on Pinterest can generally be fairly volatile, and a search launched by clicking on a hashtag will sometimes give too many irrelevant results or no results at all. You’ll almost definitely not get any results that include the hashtag you were looking for in the first place.

For example, clicking on #illustration will lead to a search for illustrations. But #infographic won‘t lead to other pins tagged with that but rather to a search for infographics of wildly varying content. So it’s 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 for 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, hashtag overuse can impact ranking on this platform. The best way to go about it is to use hashtags smartly and sparingly on Pinterest and to use them for branding purposes, rather than discoverability.

How to Use Hashtags on LinkedIn

Should you use hashtags: yes
Recommended number of hashtags per post: 3–4
Are hashtags hyperlinked: yes

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.

Hashtags on LinkedIn are hyperlinked, and you can also follow hashtags as you would do with people or groups. But as with Facebook, LinkedIn’s complicated privacy settings impact whether content using hashtags can be seen and found via search.

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 hashtag will show up in the search results next to regular posts from your network that are using the hashtag — provided they are public, of course. Whether you post a status update or a LinkedIn article, you have to make your whole profile publicly visible for any of it to be found via hashtag search.

How to use hashtags on YouTube

Should you use hashtags: yes
Recommended number of hashtags per post: 3–5
Are hashtags hyperlinked: yes

On YouTube, hashtags are mostly a search and discovery tool. You can search for specific hashtags using the search function. Furthermore, they are hyperlinked so you can also click on hashtags on videos to find other content tagged the same way.

Google has released clear guidelines on YouTube hashtag use. Hashtags on a video can be shown

  • in the title,
  • in the description or
  • above the title.

You can prevent hashtags being shown above the title, by using one hashtag in the title. If you don’t add any hashtags to your title at all, the first three hashtags mentioned in the description will show above the title.

Screenshot of the title and description under a YouTube post by user TheEllenShow, posted on 16 May 2019. Title: “Melissa McCarthy and Billie Eilish Are Bad Guys” Description: “Guest host Melissa McCarthy admitted she is obsessed with Billie Eilish, and has dreams of becoming best friends and touring with the pop star. To prove she has what it takes to hang with Billie, Melissa put together a video to show off her skills.  #MelissaMcCarthy #BillieEilish #BadGuys” The three hashtags from the description (#MelissaMcCarthy #BillieEilish #BadGuys) are also shown above the title of the video, in blue, hyperlinked)
No hashtag is used in the title, so the first three hashtags from the description are automatically shown above the title.

Among other things, Google’s rules for hashtags also state that the more hashtags you use, the less relevant they become. Using more than 15 hashtags will lead to all of them being ignored completely. YouTube also penalises the use of “non-hashtags”, e.g. ordinary descriptive tags, or misleading hashtags that don’t have anything to do with the content.

So the best practice is to focus on three relevant hashtags, since those can be shown above the video title. Limit any additional hashtags. And definitely do not use 15 or more.

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.
  • 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 as reality and find a way to work around it.

These are also reasonable steps to take when you’re looking at a new platform in a continuously changing social media landscape. New platforms shoot up all the time. So when you’re thinking of using a new-to-you platform, simply have a look at what your key demographics are already doing there and how they are using hashtags. Then take it from there.