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Believe it or not, the hashtag has been around for more than a decade.

Back in 2007, when twitter was in its infancy, a Google developer named Chris Messina suggested in a tweet that perhaps the easiest way to group things by subject would be to throw a pound sign in front of them.  His suggestion was based on historic use of the pound sign to categorize within the world of programming and other technological avenues, and despite the fact that it did indeed work, it didn’t catch on right away.  Throughout 2007 it was used sparingly within the tech community, aspiring political parties picked it up to encourage voting in 2008, but it wasn’t until Twitter itself began promoting hashtags in 2009 that it’s use became mainstream.

These days, even though hashtags are common place, many business owners don’t really understand how hashtags work or how they can use them to boost their marketing efforts. Choosing hashtags that have impact on your business can be daunting and overwhelming for even the most experienced business owners.  However, there are a few best practices to consider to help optimize your posts for maximum reach.

Choose hashtags that are relevant to your content.  

It isn’t about reaching the most people, it is about reaching the right people.  Make sure your posts include tags that are popular with your target audience. Research what your competitors and industry influencers are using in their posts and whether they are having success with them.  In Instagram, you can easily search for terms or words that are specific to your industry and then select the ‘tags’ tab to see which hashtags are being used frequently within that content stream and remember to also look at the related tags when conducting those searches, as that can be a great resource as well.

Follow the trend.

It is worthwhile to do a little research on hashtags that are trending.  If any of the current trending tags are relevant to your content, consider including them in your posts.  If a hashtag is trending it is more likely to come up in popular searches.  However, this can also be problematic if you don’t have a strong following as your post can be more likely to get lost in the stream of tagged posts.  Various social media algorithms favour posts with a lot of engagement and will bump other posts down from the top, making it easy for trending tag posts to get lost in the shuffle.

Choose quality over quantity.

Although it seems to be a popular practice to include a laundry list of hashtags on each post, research suggests that this should be avoided and is frowned upon by many popular platforms.  Both Facebook and Twitter suggest not using more than 2 hashtags per post and while you can include up to 30 in an instagram post or 10 in a story, the magic number for maximum engagement is thought to be 9 or 10, however that doesn’t mean you need to include that many in every post.  The more relevant your tags are to your content and your targeted audience, the more impactful they will have, regardless of quantity.

Follow performance metrics.

If you upgrade your account in Instagram to a free business profile, you will gain access to insights on the effectiveness of hashtags you have used in your posts.  This can be a huge asset as your content evolves.  This is also why it is important to use unique tags for each post and avoid copying and pasting that laundry list of tags. Instagram users have the ability to request that your account’s content not show up for a certain tag if they don’t like what you are posting, having enough of those requests from users can drastically impact your reach.  Twitonomy will provide Twitter hashtag statistics and sites like RiteTag can give you information on tags that typically perform well.

Let your fans feed your content generator!

By asking fans or followers to use a specific hashtag when they post about your content, you create an easy way to collect content for reposting, but it also enables your fans to advertise for you.  The key is to create a tag that is relevant, easy to remember and unique to your brand.  You can use an incentive to drive the call to action, or simply make sure to repost as many as possible so your fans feel valued and recognized.

Final thoughts:

Hashtags aren’t going away any time soon, your best bet is to do the research and start using them in an effective manner as they can be a huge exposure tool!  A few last tips to take into consideration before you become a tag master:

Make sure your Facebook posts are public if you want them to come up in hashtag searches.

Check hashtags before you use them to make sure they aren’t somehow affiliated with a subject matter that you don’t want to be known for.

#nowgogetem

Alix Robinson is a Halifax-based graphic designer, branding specialist and owner of Every Day I’m Branding Virtual Marketing Management.