The application of hashtags in each platform is as varied as a dinner of tapas small plates.
The hashtag emerged as a method to sort through innumerable volumes of social media posts. Initially used by Twitter, hashtags helped users to classify or categorize tweets around specific topics, making relevant content discoverable by others. Searching on a hashtag like #BestTapasBoston would produce a set of tweets relating to restaurants serving tapas (small plates). Hashtags can be used as a way to search for and connect with others who share a common interest.
With the growth in social media adoption, use of hashtags expanded to other platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. But while their use has spread, the application of hashtags in each platform is as varied as a meal of tapas plates. While you may choose to participate on several social platforms for your business, it’s important to cater both the style of the posts and the use of hashtags to each platform.
Optimizing hashtag use
So if the point of including hashtags is to maximize discoverability, is it a case of more is better? Should you include a slew of hashtags with every post? Which are more effective, general hashtags like #restaurants or very specific ones, like #VeganGlutenFreeTapasBoston? Or should all of your hashtags include branding for your company, like #BrothersDeliBestBreakfasts?
The truth is that — even if they’re not always appropriately utilized — there are specific best practices for hashtags. And (you guessed it) — they vary wildly from one social network to another. While there has been a lot of research on the topic, Social Media Today recently reported on a TrackMaven study that reinforces the variability point with gusto. For example, the studies note that while one to two hashtags within a tweet maximizes engagement, on Instagram the ideal number of hashtags is between nine and eleven per post.
Counting hashtag characters
The TrackMaven study also reviewed the ideal length for a hashtag. In Twitter’s early days, when every character counted toward the 140 limit, you could bet your dinner on the fact that shorter hashtags were favored. But since Twitter has not only relaxed the 140 character limit, but also excludes characters associated with links and certain profile mentions, you’d no longer want to bet your favorite tapas on that argument.
Indeed you would not. The best performing Twitter hashtags have 18 characters. Longer hashtags, according to the study, show a sharp decline in engagement. Except, that is, hashtags with three characters, which perform second to those with 18 characters.
Think you’re better off on Instagram? Yeah, no … Instagram hashtags with 21 characters perform best. But you’ll need to count carefully because “engagement decreases sharply for posts with hashtags that are 25 characters long,” according to the post in Social Media Today.
Facebook to the rescue. Despite endless algorithm changes and deplorable organic reach, on the topics of hashtags Facebook is a hero. The optimal number of hashtags for a Facebook post is one. And the best-performing hashtags on Facebook have a mere six characters. You can count those … without even counting!
Hashtag naming: DIY
So let’s assume that you can keep track of the optimal character counts for your hashtags and the ideal number of hashtags in each platform. Then, where do you find hashtags to use? Is there some kind of hashtag directory or do you just wing it … creating your own new hashtags with each new recipe?
Once again, best practices for hashtags vary by platform, but there are a few general rules that apply across the board. Since the primary reason for using hashtags is to make your content more visible to a potential customer, partner or collaborator, don’t get too complicated. Keep these points in mind when naming hashtags:
- Do make your hashtags industry-focused, and always create a hashtag for your event.
- Don’t restrict your hashtags to the most popular or general ones. Competition is fierce and you’ll be unlikely to gain traction.
- Do get specific. While your audience will be smaller, it will be more relevant.
- Don’t rely on automated tools to share the same post and hashtags in multiple platforms.
- Do include location hashtags if applicable, and express your geography in various ways.
- Don’t brand all your hashtags specific to your own business.
- Do create a few evergreen hashtags for your business and use them consistently.
Want more hashtags resources? While there are myriad sites to help you decipher and analyze the optimal hashtags, if you just want to determine the most popular hashtag related to a topic, try hashtagify.me. Simply type in your term and it displays an easy to understand graphic of related hashtags, sized by popularity. It’s solid marketing intelligence that you can use to create the perfect hashtag for your post — without spending all day at it.