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The hashtag: What is it and how do you use it?

If you’re fairly new to social media, you might not understand the point of adding hashtags to your updates. After the success of hashtags on Twitter, many social networks now also feature them. The purpose of hashtags for small businesses is that you can increase the visibility of your social media profile – with the ultimate goal of more followers and customers.

In this article, we will explain how hashtags work and how you can use them to increase the network of fans for your business social media accounts.

how do hashtags work

Petit_louis / Flickr

How do hashtags work?

Hashtags are the short links preceded by the # sign. There are multiple ways people can reach your social media profile, one of them is through hashtags. Adding relevant hashtags to your post increases your chances of potential customers finding you on social media.

Picture this: A potential customer comes across the hashtag #FridayReads on Twitter, a hashtag to show what you’re reading that week. She clicks on it, and finds a list of tweets featuring that hashtag. Now, if you have an online bookshop, you could use this hashtag to show what you think people should be reading this Friday! Then you could add a link to your shop where people can buy the book.

Another reason to use hashtags is to increase engagement with users. Tweets with hashtags receive two times more engagement than those without hashtags (Rivaliq). You could search for relevant hashtags and reply to potential customers.

As an example, the wedding planner below has searched for the hashtag #engaged. They then let the lucky lady know how they can help her with the wedding. How thoughtful!

twitter hashtag

hashtag twitter

How to include hashtags

There are certain rules for hashtags that you need to follow to create successful hashtags.

First of all, you cannot include spaces. So if you want to include more than one word in a hashtag, you need to add them together. Use capitals to separate words for easier reading. Don’t string together too many words though! People won’t search for long hashtags, so it’s a waste of valuable space.


Another rule is that you cannot include special characters or punctuation marks, like exclamation points or asterisks.

The last rule is more of a recommendation: Include only 1 or 2 hashtags, no more. Social media users often include an excessive amount of hashtags in their updates, to reach a wider audience.

It doesn’t work though, because tweets with more than two hashtags actually show a 17% drop in engagement. ( Rivaliq). Which one of the below tweets is easier to read, and looks more professional?

? Check out Sarah’s beautiful new #gelnails with some #nailart! Book your appointment today!
X Sarah has new #nails #gelpolishmanicure #gelnails #nailart at our #nailsalon #nailbar #beauty

Using hashtags on different social media platforms

Twitter is the birthplace of the hashtag, and on Twitter hashtags are mainly used to indicate a specific topic of conversation. You can find popular hashtags, or ‘trends’, at the bottom of the Twitter search page.


Instagram uses hashtags in a similar way; you can click on them to see what other people say about a particular topic. Instagram users use hashtags a lot! Unlike on Twitter, it’s OK to use multiple hashtags on Instagram, you have more space after all! Posts with 11 or more hashtags get the highest engagement on Instagram! ( Quicksprout)

Facebook and Google+

Facebook has supported hashtags since 2013, but people just aren’t using the function as much as they are on other social networks. Google+ has fully embraced hashtags, and also shows related hashtags in your search results.


You can include hashtags in Pinterest posts, but the search doesn’t support hashtags. When you search for #DIY in Pinterest, you get all the results that have the word “DIY” in the pin description, URL, photo name or product name. So it’s not necessary to include hashtags on Pinterest, just be sure to include keywords in the relevant places.

Choosing the right hashtags

We’d recommend you do a bit of research before posting, to find out what people are searching for. You want to make sure your update is found, so your hashtags need to hit the sweet spot between being too niche and being too generic.

Our favourite tool to find out hashtag popularity for Twitter is RiteTag, which also gives you inspiration for related hashtags. Take a look at the example below:

ritetag hashtag

If we would add the hashtag #socialmedia in our tweet, we’d have to compete with 1,588 tweets per hour, and our update will be snowed under. However, if we add the suggested hashtag #socialmediamarketing, we are only competing with 104 other tweets. If the alternative hashtag is still relevant, it’s better to be more specific.

On Instagram and Facebook you can use the search bar to research hashtags. Just fill in the keyword with a # in front of it, like “#petshop” and search. On Instagram you can see the amount of times this hashtag has been used immediately. On Facebook you have to scroll down to find all posts that use this hashtag. If people use the hashtag reasonably often (at least every day), it will be worth adding it to your update.

Before posting to Google+ you can use their explore function to find related hashtags. We searched for #fitness, and found more inspiring hashtags that a gym or dietitian could use!

google+ hashtag

That’s all!

We hope you have a better idea of what hashtags are, how you can use them to engage with other social media users, and how you can research hashtag ideas. Until next time!

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