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How to pick the right hashtags

Tips to help get your social media marketing posts seen.

A good social media strategy shouldn’t be focused on how many likes and follows you get, but on the quality of your followers — which can translate into brand awareness, two-way communication and real-world sales. And hashtags are one way to get noticed and boost that engagement.

If you add hashtags for the sake of adding hashtags, you might be diluting the message you want to get across. So which hashtags should you use? How many is too many? And is there really any business benefit to using them?

Here’s how to get the most out of your hashtags — without going overboard.

Why hashtags?

pick the right hashtags

Hashtags are used on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter (and somewhat less effectively on Facebook) to make your content discoverable by both loyal customers and potential new customers. Instagram posts with at least one hashtag are shown to receive up to 12.5 per cent more engagement, according to a study by Simply Measured. And not only can people follow your company or brand on Instagram, but they can also follow hashtags.

“Hashtags are essentially Instagram’s sorting process. With around 95 million photos posted on Instagram every day, it’s difficult for Instagram to efficiently deliver the right content to the right people. Hashtags help your post get discovered by viewers most interested in seeing it,” writes Caroline Forsey in a blog for HubSpot.

Avoid #overkill

We’ve all seen posts that barrage you with hashtags. On Instagram, you’re allowed to use up to 30 hashtags per post — but that doesn’t mean you should. Though hashtags make your content more discoverable, more is not necessarily better. Indeed, it can make your post look spammy or dilute the message you’re trying to get across.

Usage also differs by platform. Research from TrackMaven found that tweets with only one hashtag generate the most engagement, while on Instagram nine is the optimal number. It also found that hashtags don’t perform as well on Facebook, but could be useful in specific cases such as events or promotions.

Do your research

Don’t guess — research popular hashtags in your industry, as well as those used by your competitors and industry influencers. You can also use trending hashtags (so long as they relate to your post), as well as those associated with a holiday or special event. But don’t focus solely on the most popular ones — niche hashtags allow your content to be discovered by segments of your audiences and often drive better engagement.

Use branded hashtags

pick the right hashtags

You can create a hashtag specific to your company — a brand name, a product name or even a campaign slogan. Brands can do well on Instagram if they’re providing quality content and engaging followers (consider that 70 per cent of all hashtags on Instagram are branded). The bonus? It’s easy to analyze the effectiveness of your branded hashtags through social media monitoring tools.

Use community hashtags

You can also use generic community hashtags that don’t relate directly to your company, such as #instadaily. This could give you exposure to a new audience — just make sure the community hashtag is relevant to your particular post. Using #photooftheday, for example, requires a worthy photo. And mix them up — don’t use the same ones day after day.

Avoid spammy hashtags

If you use popular hashtags that don’t relate to your post, you run the risk of being unfollowed (no one likes to feel like they’re being spammed). If a popular hashtag like #cute or #happy has nothing to do with the message you’re trying to convey in a post, it’s best to avoid it. And it’s generally a bad idea to use spammy hashtags like #followmeback.

Drive engagement

Hashtags can also be used to drive customer engagement, such as enticing followers to interact with your brand. Followers of fast-fashion retailer Forever 21, for example, can use the hashtag #foreverbabe for a chance to be mentioned on the retailer’s Instagram feed. By promoting followers, you build loyalty. Give people a reason to use your hashtag, whether it’s recognition or the chance to win a prize.

Run campaigns

A campaign hashtag is used for a specific period of time — a few days, a few weeks or a season — tied to a specific marketing campaign such as a product launch. If you’re hosting an event (including conferences, trade shows, workshops and larger meetings), you can share an event-related hashtag days or weeks prior, and encourage followers to use it leading up to and during the sessions.

Measure results

These days it’s easier than ever to measure the results of a social media campaign — and that includes your use of hashtags. An Instagram business profile, for example, provides access to Instagram Insights, where you can delve into data such as how many impressions you received from specific hashtags. And there are plenty of social media monitoring tools on the market, from simple to sophisticated, that can help you measure results and tweak your strategy going forward.

You don’t need to be a social media guru to get the most out of your hashtags. By following a few simple rules of etiquette, you can make your hashtags work for you — and generate some business along the way.

Up Next: Getting the new wave of digital marketing to work for you.

Mark Glucki

Mark has been developing digital blog communities for 10+ years that connect business and tech pros with their inspirational stories. He developed a North American best practice for creating positive experiences on social media networks and spends as much time learning about entrepreneur success stories as he does producing content for others to enjoy. Mark is also a commercial photographer focusing on product and location images. His work can be seen at Wonderlab Photo.

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