Hashtags show up all over the place in social media; sometimes used well, sometimes not so much. Here are some quick thoughts on them.
They started for groups
Chris Messina first proposed using a hashtag back in 2007. They weren’t linked to each other, but the idea was that users of his group could search for the hashtag to find one another. The idea spread quickly, as did functionality in tools like Twitter to automatically link hashtags to pages with grouped ideas.
They’re not really for search
You’re not going to randomly appear higher in any social channel because of hashtags. While people will click them to see related posts, most social media searches are hashtag-less. If I want more info about WordPress, I might just search for “WordPress” on Twitter. This will show me all of the tweets that use that word, whether it is in the middle of a sentence or a hashtag.
They’re good for organizations and conversations
The key to hashtags is that you can click on them to see other posts that used the same hashtag. This is a great way to find people talking about things you’re interested in, and it’s easy to join in with them. This is really the best use of hashtags — if I include a #DesignTips hashtag, users might click it to see other posts with that hashtag. Better yet, they might be on another post initially and then find you as a result!
If a hashtag is trending, that can be a good time to use it in a post to gain a few more readers — if your content fits the subject. There are countless stories of businesses jumping on a trending hashtag and looking awful as a result.
For a live event, they can be great! I actually met my friend Joshua McNary back in 2010 when we were traveling to the same event, tweeting from different airplanes on the way there, and found each other via the event’s hashtag. The event (“Where 2.0”) no longer exists, but we still keep in touch every few months.
Networks treat them differently
Based largely on privacy settings, different social media networks handle hashtags differently. Twitter and Instagram tend to be great for them (since most posts are public), whereas Facebook is a little less useful (since many posts are private). Play with each and see how it works for you.
You can just have fun with them
Some people just post hashtags as kind of a funny P.S. to a post. A post might end with something like #BloggingFrequentlyIsTough #ButThanksGoogleForTheTraffic.
Those of are no technical value, since likely no one else is using them, but they can add a fun twist to your post.
Always use #CamelCase
Lastly, for the sake of clarity and to help those with accessibility needs, always use #CamelCaseHashtags. Here’s a bit more about that.
In general, I think hashtags are overused and perhaps overrated, but they can be very valuable in some cases. What do you find the most valuable aspect of hashtags to be?