Social Media 101: Anatomy of a Hashtag and How to Use One Like a Pro

Here’s a primer on how to master the use of those quirky little pound sign–word combos in play on social media

Welcome to Social Media 101, an online-only series with jewelry-specific advice to master these free, fun online marketing tools.

Danielle Miele’s “Show Me Your Rings” posts—a staple on her Gem Gossip blog since January 2010—became a natural choice for a signature hashtag (#showmeyourrings) when she joined Instagram in January 2010.

“It was an easy and instant transition,” she recollects of the quirky social media tool utilizing a pound sign in front of a word or phrase. It was also a hit considering it’s been used more than 127,000 times since its debut. “I think gauging success is based on a quick scroll through the hashtag itself—are the pictures tagged depicting what the hashtag is supposed to illustrate? For the most part, #showmeyourrings is a mega database of ring photos with endless inspiration.”

Hashtags are an important part of the social media experience. They took root on Twitter and were adopted by Instagram and Facebook users. Hashtags aim to connect others in conversation, cultivate community, connect users at events (as in #jcklasvegas or #couture2016), inspire activity, or challenge users to take action—such as participate in an annual sale. Employing the proper use of hashtags can help users find you, increase your fan base or number of followers, and help potential customers research items that they are in the market to buy, such as #alternativebridal.

“The advantage of using hashtags is that if you use the right ones you ensure that your post will show up in the search results of a user who is looking for something specific,” observes Becky Stone, founder of Diamonds in the Library

How to Pick a Good Hashtag

Experts encourage users to have a purpose and consider the audience. For example, offering opal jewelry for sale? Use #opals or #opaljewelry. “Think like a reader,” urges Peggy Jo Donahue, owner of Donahue Communications.

Use already established ones like #lovegold and #showmeyourrings to tap into those audiences. And, use some hashtags consistently so certain audiences can find you. When Liz Kantner, marketing consultant at Stay Gold, worked in public relations at Todd Reed, she used #toddreed so fans could easily find all references to the brand. Plus, she had a location-specific tag just for his retail outlet in California. “I also used #toddreedla when discussing his LA studio,” she says.

Measure effectiveness by spikes in online or in-store traffic, and analyze likes and comments in an effort to re-create popular posts. “Some growth is viral, but usually it happens because you’re doing something right,” says Stone. “Pay attention to your audience, and they’ll show you how to make them happy.”

Create a signature hashtag to mark your brand, but make sure it’s on point. Omi Prive’s #OhMyOMI is that brand’s signature hashtag created by Benjamin Guttery, a consultant and curator at @ThirdCoastGems on Instagram. On his own account, Guttery uses #stacksarethenewblack to speak to the ongoing trend of jewelry stacking rings and bracelets. “Signature hashtags should be catchy, differentiated from others, original to you and your brand, and in line with your store’s or brand’s messaging,” he says.

The best hashtags? Those with the potential to go viral and clearly state a directive about a brand. “Kimberly McDonald’s signature hashtag of #ilikerocks is a great example,” says Monica Stephenson, founder of idazzle and Anza Gems.

What to Avoid When Using Hashtags

Don’t use too many hashtags or generic ones. For example, #diamonds turns up 4.7 million posts, making it practically impossible for others to find your photo. However, #diamondstuds has just more than 11,000 uses today on Instagram, making it much easier for a potential buyer to find your merchandise images.

“I never post more hashtags than I have fingers to count on,” says Miele. “I think over-hashtagging looks sloppy.”

Looks aside, too many hashtags can confuse users, inadvertently doing more harm than helping. “Irrelevant ones can damage a brand,” notes Guttery.

Too many hasthags can also bury your post or get it removed altogether by a network. Twitter tells users to use “no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet” while Instagram’s policy urges Instagrammers to use no more than 30. (More Instagram knowledge: users can only include up to five @ mentions in a single comment and they can’t post the same comment—including emojis—multiple times.

Before you use a new hashtag, check it out online to see who is already using it and what others think it means. “It could mean something other than you intend!” insists Donahue. “For example, don’t use #PlatinumMondays!”

This hashtag—for some reason—has a pornographic backstory. 

(Photo courtesy of Zoom-Zoom/Thinkstock)

Also see: “How to Master the Science of Hashtags” in JCK’s May issue.

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