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  • 21.03.16
  • by Beth Cronin

Hashtag amnesty: How to use hashtags correctly

Today is Twitter’s 10th birthday, and although it’s not the only place you might see a hashtag used in social media, it is a concept that's very popular with Twitter users.

For anyone that doesn’t know, a hashtag (#) is used to prefix a word or phrase to make it into a label, or category, that other users who may be looking for content of the same theme or topic can easily find. For that reason, they are very popular among both company and consumer tweets.

Now for the hashtag amnesty. Now we're not judging anybody... but who knows how to correctly use a hashtag? Who’s seen some awful examples of people in their networks using hashtags in a painfully excessive way? Who’s used their own made-up hashtag and wondered why everyone else on Twitter hasn't started using it yet?

You’re not alone! Twitter novices and veterans alike often make these same mistakes. We’re here to give you some tips on how to use hashtags properly whether its for your business or personal tweets.

1. Do your homework. Take the time to have a quick check to see if there is already an established hashtag about the topic you’re posting about that will help you. Or, if you’re looking to start a new conversation, check that nobody else has already used it for another topic that will cloud your feedback and cause confusion around your brand.

2. Only use them to add value. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! Don’t add one for the sake of it.

3. Use title case for more than one word. If your hashtag is more than one word, use title case to maintain legibility (but that doesn’t mean you should use a full sentence!) When Margaret Thatcher died, one of the first hashtags to pop up was by a Thatcher-critical website - #NowThatchersDead which, when tweeted without the capital letters, lead to thousands of people thinking Cher had died instead (#NowThatChersDead) – simple mistake to make without grammar!

4. Use sparingly. Try to stick to one hashtag per post, two if you have to – overuse is the Twitter equivalent of spamming and is likely to be one of the biggest bug bears for your followers - don’t give them a reason to unfollow you.

5. Keep it short and to the point. You’ve only got 140 characters per tweet (for now) – don’t use them all up in your hashtag!

6. Don’t put spaces or punctuation in! Although you can put a hashtag anywhere in your tweet, don’t break the link by putting spaces or punctuation in (including more hashtags!). Anything directly after your hashtag will be the ‘tag’, use a space and your hashtag isn’t complete – so it won’t be found, or is likely to disrupt the engagement you’re aiming for.  

7. Don’t expect your hashtag to do all the work for you. If it’s not a strong concept, or adding any value, it won’t go anywhere. Put yourself in the shoes of your followers and potential followers, re-look at your hashtag and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’. Your hashtag won’t become a trending topic just because you want it to - it can take weeks or months for it to be used to gain traction.

8. Don’t over-use your brand within your hashtags if it’s not relevant. You’re looking to use these to start a conversation, not just for blatant promotion. Pull users into your topic of conversation – if your hashtag is smart and resonates with your intended audience, you don’t need to force your brand name in there every time – they will make the connection naturally.

9. Remember why hashtags exist. They are there as a means of allowing otherwise unconnected comments to be shared, for people who don’t necessarily know each other, to talk about the same thing. The hashtag itself isn’t the message, even if you did have a #greatnightlastnight. For example, we are using a hashtag for anything related to our 10th birthday year (#TheWorks10 if you were wondering) - which enables anything we have posted using this tag to be seen together quickly.

10. Check it, before you post it! In our busy lives, it’s so easy to misspell something. Take a second to re-read your tweet, check your hashtag is spelled correctly, is consistent with what you've used before (if appropriate), the content that comes up for your tag is relevant and it all makes sense - wouldn’t you rather spend an extra second checking everything is A-Okay then deal with a social media drama?

Happy tweeting, and Happy Birthday, Twitter!