How to Master the Science of Hashtags

If your social feeds feel stale—or your online outreach needs a boost—it might be time to up your hashtag game. 

Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter allow users to create topic-specific feeds by filtering posts that use the same word or phrase, preceded by a #. It’s one of the easiest ways to insert your brand into conversations in progress or trending (aka proliferating) on social media. It’s also a way to start conversations with your followers. 

But if you’re online, you know there are more ways to misuse a hashtag than there are diamonds in a tennis bracelet. We asked Peg Fitzpatrick, social media strategist and coauthor of The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, for her tips on how small businesses can cash in on the hashtag.

Jump Into the Fray

“Hashtags really connect conversations,” Fitzpatrick says. “And they help businesses connect with more people.” Just as important, they can nudge new followers your way. “Maybe you tweet something really funny and include a trending hashtag, and someone thinks, Wow, that company’s really cool.” It happens all the time. 

Be Clear and Concise

“I always say to stop the random acts of hashtagging,” Fitzpatrick says. Most egregious is the habit of littering the bottom of your post with a dozen or more hashtags that aren’t trending, are basically meaningless, and don’t place a business in any conversations. And “never use a hashtag if you don’t know what it means,” warns Fitzpatrick. “You could be joining the wrong conversation. Always, always make sure hashtags are relevant to your business.” And “don’t make it all about you—that kind of kills the point of using a hashtag. It’s a social thing.” Also, be transparent in your hashtagging. If your followers don’t know what a hashtag is referring to, they’ll dismiss it immediately. “Try to be clever in what you hashtag, but not so clever that it’s confusing.”

Find Out What’s Trending

On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you can click on a link that leads you to the channels’ top trending hashtags. Use them, but only if they make sense for your brand. “Trending hashtags are the best,” says Fitzpatrick. “They can put you in a large conversation right away. Is it National Diamond Day and everyone’s hashtagging about it? Get some posts going with that hashtag.” 

Start Your Own Conversation

The most effective use of hashtagging for small businesses is typically related to a brand campaign or initiative, delineated by a certain hashtag. From Instagram or Facebook contests (example: “Whoever posts the best quote about TGIF wins this necklace! #FridayFreebie”) to chatting about jewelry and your product (example: “Is your daily jewelry gold or silver? #metalheads”), there are hundreds of ways to get people posting about your company. “You can create a lot of user-generated content on social media,” Fitzpatrick says. “It’s what a lot of big brands are already doing, from Mercedes to L’Oréal. It’s great for business.”

(Photo: Lewis Mulatero/Getty Images)

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