Certainly by now you’ve heard of this thing called the hashtag. I mean… Justin Timberlake has even written an entire song about them…
But what exactly are hashtags and how do you use them effectively for business? Well dear reader, you’ve come to the right place!
What is a Hashtag?
Hashtags are keywords that are used to tag social media posts, which makes the posts easier for social networks to organize and for users to find. When a user places a hashtag in their post, it is automatically indexed by the social network and made searchable by other users within the network. When a user clicks on that hashtag, they will be given a page that assembles all of the posts with that hashtagged keyword in real-time. Hashtags have become such a common practice that people have started using them beyond their original purpose. Hashtags are now frequently used in text messages, web chats, ads, and pop songs.
How are Hashtags Used Across the Social Web?
Most social networks use hashtags in essentially the same way: to organize posts and make it easier for users to find what they are looking for. That said, each network has its own take on how they put hashtags to use.
Twitter: The original hashtag network is also the most popular site for using hashtags. According to research, 10.1% of tweets have at least one hashtag in their text, while 20.8% of retweets contains hashtags. Current trending topics for your location are listed on the left-hand side of your Twitter stream.
Facebook: Clicking on a hashtag in Facebook will take you to a new page with the visible posts that have used that hashtag. The current trending topics will also be seen in the top right hand corner of your News Feed.
Instagram: Hashtagging is BIG on Instagram! It is a great way for users to search for photos that are similar or of a similar subject. By placing a hashtag in the description of your picture, it will be linked to search results of other pictures about the same subject.
Google+: Google+ uses hashtags in a similar way to the other sites, but the key difference here is that Google+ will automatically add hashtags to content that they think is relevant to a popular keyword. You can opt-out of this feature through your Google+ settings.
Pinterest: Hashtags on Pinterest work a little differently than on other sites. Tags here are only clickable in a Pin’s description. Also, hashtags are not searchable on Pinterest; you just search the keyword (without #) to find the content you are looking for.
YouTube: Hashtag use is fairly new to YouTube and is not widely used. Users can leave comments with hashtags, which will then link back to a search result page with videos containing that hashtag in their title.
Vine: Since Vine is owned by the creators of the hashtag, you know that it has included hashtags as part of its functionality. As with most other social sites, adding a hashtag to a Vine video’s description will link to a page with related videos.
Finding Relevant Hashtags on Twitter
As the birthplace of the modern use of Hashtags, Twitter has developed a culture that expects and revolves around its use. Since hashtags are an integral part of using Twitter, it becomes necessary to use the appropriate tools to research, create, and monitor the hashtags used within your industry or relating to your brand.
Hashtags.org is a service whose mission statement is “organizing the world’s hashtags”. The site uses Twitter’s streaming API to bring data for any hashtags a user may want to research. Searching a hashtag on Hashtags.org gives you the definition, any related terms, a series of related tweets, and statistics regarding the use of that hashtag.
The most valuable aspect of the free service is being able to see what has been trending over the past 24 hours. If you need to save and monitor hashtags over a longer period of time, then you will need to opt for the paid service.
Tagdef is a service that comes in handy when researching hashtags that are more obscure or use acronyms that are hard to decipher. Tagdef is basically a trending hashtag dictionary and thesaurus combined. The example below is for the popular hashtag “#followfriday”.
Tagdef returned the definition of the hashtag and a graph of its popularity over the past few weeks. The Tagdef homepage also shows the top Twitter hashtags, making it easy to find the most popular trending tags on all of Twitter.
Trendsmap is a location-based service that maps trending hashtags by regional popularity. This is an excellent service for brands that have regional appeal or that want to start marketing to a specific area. This information can be valuable to advertisers looking to create custom tweet campaigns based on highly targeted locations.
Here is an overview of current hashtags trending near Chicago. For example, let’s say a local bar was looking for a good hashtag to use. They could use #chicago, or if they are playing the NHL playoff in the bar, they could use #playoffs and/or #blackhawks.
Keyhole originally created this platform exclusively for their internal use, but opened it to the public when they began receiving positive feedback. Keyhole has basic features that are available for free with the more advanced features available through paid membership.
Here is an example of just some of the results that Keyhole generated for the hashtag #contentmarketing. Each of the hashtags in the tag cloud associated with #contentmarketing are clickable, which makes searching Twitter hashtags around a specific theme much easier.
Tagboard is probably the most visually pleasing of all of hashtag research websites, but it is a useful tool as well. Think of it as Pinterest for hashtags. You can create a different “Tagboard” for each hashtag you want to track. Tagboard will update each board with recent posts containing each specific hashtag.
You can then easily peruse all of the posts containing the hashtag you’re interested in. Tagboard also gives you the ability to “Feature Post”, which places that post on a separate board, making it easier to find the posts you want to engage with.
WhatTheTrend is a resource that tracks trending tags. The key benefit of this service is that it displays trends sorted by global trends, individual country trends, and city trends. This is a good resource for bloggers looking for topical inspiration, as it gives both daily and monthly options.
WhattheTrend is now owned by Hootsuite, which means that you can also use this to track individual hashtags as streams in Hootsuite.
Knowing how to use hashtags is fundamental to your success on social media. They help you get found and, in turn, help you find others who are relevant to your business, brand, or industry. In our next post on hashtags, we’ll delve deeper into Hashtag Best Practices and give you an easy to follow process to find the most relevant tags.