10 Rules for #Hashtag Usage

In “The Trend Behind Hashtags,” we discussed where hashtags originated and the trends that keep them popular. Now it’s time to talk a little bit about using hashtags for both personal and professional use.

1.     Keep it short and simple

There’s no reason to make your hashtag a run on sentence. Hashtags are used to track trends and create conversations. If you have something clever to say, try saying it without jumbling the words together and placing a hashtag symbol in front.

2.     Limit your hashtags to 3 or 5 only

I cannot stress this enough—there is absolutely no reason to use more than five hashtags. Doing so looks like spam. Furthermore, hashtags are used to capture the topic of what you’re posting about or the photo you’re sharing.

You should not need more than five hashtags to summarize what you’re sharing. If you do, then you’re doing it wrong.

3.     Be consistent

If you’re a company or professional blogger trending a specific topic frequently on your Twitter or Instagram accounts, be consistent in the hashtags you use. If you write about candle making, use either #candlemaking or #makingcandles—do not use both and do not interchange which you use.

4.     Have fun with it

There’s no reason to be so serious! Have some fun with your hashtags—keeping in mind rules 1-3.  One great example is the Loews Annapolis Hotel, which is using #LoewsLovesDogs for its National Dog Day event.

5.     Grammar is key

Sometimes it’s ok not to use a hashtag if it means forgoing proper grammar. Sure it’s acceptable to occasionally use “b/c” instead of “because,” or “w/” instead of “with”—but, don’t chop up your post just to cram a bunch of hashtags into your caption.

6.     Don’t overuse hashtags

So you’ve created a clever hashtag or have joined in on a trend such as #luckyme—try not to post your hashtag on every post you share. It looks like spam and frankly, is just annoying.

Perhaps you have some posts nearing your hashtag limit—remove that overused hashtag, instead of cramming it into your post. Don’t worry—it won’t be lost without you.

7.     Accompany a searchable topic

If you’re posting about your new beautiful Manolo Blahnik mary jane heels, don’t just use #gorgeous, #fancy or something else like #partytime.

Add a searchable hashtag so people know what you’re talking about. An acceptable example would be, “So excited to wear my new Manolo Blahniks at the party! #fancy #partytime #Manolos.”

The idea isn’t to use as many vague or made up hashtags as you can, but rather to create a conversation online, which others might join.

8.     Honor the golden rule of the hashtag length limit.

What an adorable picture you’ve posted of your new child or fantastic new office space. Here’s a tip: writing, #mychildisthemostadorableever is the exact same as writing, “My child is the most adorable ever.” There is one difference—the latter prevents me from rolling my eyes and wondering why you didn’t just write out your sentence like the educated person I know you to be. My response is far worse if you’re a business abusing the hashtag length limit.

9.     Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Including a new hashtag for the first time? Maybe double-check what else is associated with that hashtag of yours—especially if you’re a business.

10.  Don’t use punctuation or spaces

For all you hashtag newbies out there, spaces and punctuation marks do not translate in hashtags. The clickable link will end where you put a space or that punctuation mark.

The Trend Behind #Hashtags

If you work in a company or industry that frequently attends, hosts or promotes conferences then you may be familiar with the moment you first used a hashtag. Such events as SXSW utilize hashtags to help Twitter users quickly filter through the Twitter Universe, simply by searching for #SXSW.

The use of hashtags actually started way back in 2007 when designer Chris Messina suggested using the pound sign as a way to organize conversations on Twitter. Over time, the introduction of apps like Instagram offered similar search methods as Twitter, as hashtags allowed users to quickly find a favorite topic or theme.

Instagram is a great example of where hashtags went wrong.

Instagram, for instance, allows users to cross-post by simply checking multiple apps when publishing a photograph. Seeing as Facebook is a photo-sharing heavy social media outlet, many photos on Facebook quickly became bumped posts originally shared on Instagram.

Unfortunately, hashtags on Facebook did not start out as clickable links. Non-Facebook users, who failed to read the “view on Instagram” text above the photograph, joined the hashtag trend as a fun way to make up completely obscure phrases or run-on sentences such as, #omgisitfridayyetbecauseimreadyforhappyhour.

A few things have changed since then, including Facebook’s ability to link hashtags allowing businesses and general Facebook users alike to search for various trends and subjects. Hashtags have remained a popular craze on social media over the last seven years, thanks in part to a few coined phrases, celebrities, events and general pop culture.

Enter Charlie Sheen.

The former “Two and a Half Men” star joined Twitter back in 2011. During the height of his very public breakdown, involving a lot of women and a lot of illegal substances, Mr. Sheen turned to Twitter as a way to express his feelings–so to speak.

Through his jumble and rants, Mr. Sheen used a variety of key phrases to stake his claim in the public eye and fight off his “haters.” Such posts included one of his most popular, “The only thing I’m addicted to right now is #winning.” And so #winning became the next most-tweeted hashtag across all social media.

Aside from world news events and tragedies, celebrities serve as one of the biggest groups of influencers when it comes to hashtags. Whether they’re promoting their latest song, album, movie or TV show, celebrities rely on hashtags to pave the way for pop culture’s latest obsession.

One of Katy Perry’s songs features the phrase, “epic fail”—a hashtag trend that still remains popular for social media users expressing the issues and accidents of their everyday, ordinary lives. Celebrities’ use of hashtags filters to the general public. College-age fans of Taylor Swift use her favorite, #blessed, to brag about a passing grade, a date with their crush or their college team making it to the finals.

Tween users on social rely on the likes of celebrities like Justin Beiber and Rihanna to set the stage for the next big social trend. These days? #swag and #yolo. Other favorite celebrity hashtags?

  • #adorbs
  • #sorrynotsorry
  • #besties
  • #party
  • #omg
  • #nofilter
  • #luckygirl
  • #lovehim

The use of hashtags serves both good and bad. The narcissist and the considerate. The reader and the audience. Sometimes with a purpose, but most often with no purpose at all.

Hashtags aren’t all annoying. Some advantage has come out of their use, including the ability for users to quickly search for trending news stories, natural disasters, and holiday information. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the country came together using #BostonStrong. T-shirts were made, news reports were published, and counties across the country hosted fundraisers and in-memory running events in support of #BostonStrong.

As more social media outlets add the ability to link hashtags, users across the board are able to join in on the conversation, regardless of their preferred social site, helping share stories, news updates and gossip.

Consistency Isn't Just for the OCD

Your tendency and desire to ensure your social media profiles match does not make you OCD. In fact, it’s something worthy of applause. Social media is ever changing. By the time you finish reading this, some new feature, product or network has launched. How ever will you keep up?

Rather than worry about staying on top of social media, perhaps just focus on how you can best manage your current presence.

Let’s start with the basics.

FACEBOOK

Do not use blurry images. Do not use blurry cover images. Do not forget to upload a profile and cover image. For whatever reason, this needs to be said. Whether you’re an individual or a business, do not use blurry images, ever.

Since most people setup a Facebook account before all other accounts, take note of your address and description. This is more relevant for company pages.

Are you spelling out your state and address—road versus rd? What is the full company name you are using for your page’s title? Are you securing a custom URL? If so, it should match the exact title of your company page. If it’s already taken, feel free to get creative; but not too creative.

When it comes to social media, common sense is key.

Now that you’ve created your page and setup your page’s general information, what are you going to post? Is there a voice that will be used on your page? Will it include foul language and political incorrectness? My advice—don’t.

Do establish some guidelines on handling politics and holidays. Will your company have a stance on our nation’s political debates? Will your personal page take a stance? If so, be weary of how what you say has an affect on both your personal and business pages (more on this later!).

TWITTER

Now that you’ve setup your Facebook page, let’s talk about Twitter. When you setup your Twitter account, do so using the same URL handle as your Facebook URL. For instance: facebook.com/borczdixon and twitter.com/borczdixon.

Add a description, profile logo/image and other graphic elements that are consistent with your Facebook page. It’s important that there is cohesiveness to your presence on social media.

Ok, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that you correctly secured your Facebook URL, but your ideal Twitter screen name is already taken. Oh no!

Don’t fret. In an ideal world, you’d be the first one to come up with your screen name and would never experience such a problem.

If your screen name is taken, chose one that is a spin-off of your other social media names. For instance, if @BorczDixon is taken, the next best option would be @Borcz, @BDixon, @BD or @Dixon. If your Facebook page title (not to be confused with URL) is Borcz+Dixon Advertising, try @BorczDixonAdvertising.

Do try to avoid especially long screen names on Twitter, as character limitations could prevent people from interacting or mentioning you on Twitter.

INSTAGRAM

Now that you’re setup on Facebook and Twitter, let’s take a look at Instagram. Let me rephrase. Let’s take a look at what you should never do on Instagram. Variation is key so unless you’re a professional body builder, dog walker, hair model, personal trainer or chef, avoid posting only on these subjects.

Your Instagram fans, friends and followers will be thankful for variation and will be more likely to interact with that adorable dog photograph when 90% of your Instagram photos are more than just animal pictures.

Let’s talk about selfies. Why this word even exists is beyond me—hence my other belief that your Instagram profile should not be filled with selfies. If you will post photographs of yourself—which is ok—take real photographs. Ask a friend, colleague, or random stranger to take a photo of you instead of taking the classic in-the-mirror-photo. Your audience is not amused by the selfie.

Instagram is a fantastic and very popular photography app for multiple reasons. The primary reason is it allows amateur picture takers to upload halfway decent photos, add a filter, and share with friends. When it comes to these filters, less is more. The less editing you do, the better. The less filters you use, the better. Pick one or two favorite filters and stick with them.

When it comes to consistency remember—this includes consistency of subject matter. Perhaps filter A, B, C, or D makes your image look amazing, but what about your overall profile? What happens when you go to your main Instagram profile page? Using 20 different Instagram filters will come off as ugly—that’s right, ugly.

PINTEREST

Pinterest is one of my personal favorites and has become a go-to search engine for topics such as parties, wedding dresses, holiday décor, recipes and fitness tips.

Pinterest is easy to navigate, find inspiration and is aesthetically pleasing. Guess what is not? Blurry photos, poorly-lit images and low-quality illustrations. Don’t pin these.

Focus on quality over quantity. The most popular pins are those that are beautiful, informative or inspirational.

If you are a company, create and regularly maintain Pinterest boards that are representative of your mission. If you are a non-profit or small business, create boards that represent what you do—which I suspect does not include fluffy animals.

Let’s say you have 1,000 Pinterest followers. That’s fantastic! Now, let’s say you focus on childhood education. Think about it—how many of your Pinterest fans follow your board titled “Brain Games,” versus “Shoes & Clothes?”

It’s certainly ok to have fun on Pinterest, but unless you are a non-profit organization dedicated to fluffy animal-owning small businesses, you should not be pinning picture after picture of cute puppies. The goal of Pinterest, like your other social media profiles, is not to gather a gigantic following of non-relative followers.