Ahhh, the irrefragable, irreplaceable #hashtag — the trending topic tracker, the great group aggregator — it seems to have been around forever but it no doubt has its origins. In use since ca. 1988 in the early Internet’s IRC chatrooms to define network-wide channels [ah yes, I remember such long-standing pillars as #warez, #kcah, and #n0n00bz … or wait, were those early AOL chatrooms?].
The hashtag supposedly came into its modern “web” format in 2007 when Chris Messina, who claims to have invented them, suggested them as a feature for Twitter in 2007, a little over a year after Twitter was launched.
By 2010 hashtags were being used on television for corporate brand recognition and started to become a major social networking convention. Instagram also launched in 2010 and its user base exploded within a year, whereupon they implemented hashtags as well, further cementing their use.
Twitter, one of the top ten websites in the world, and Instagram, now in the top twenty in the world, have made hashtags standard vocabulary on the web, but how can you best use hashtags in terms of marketing and growing your business? As you’ll see, learning to use hashtags is one of the most important parts of developing a marketing and traffic generation strategy for these two huge websites (and a few others as well*).
*Note – Other large platforms use hashtags, such as Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google Plus. Although this article is written with Twitter and Instagram as its focus, the tips contained herein will generally apply to all websites that support hashtags. But don’t forget that Twitter etiquette allows for only a maximum of three hashtags per post! The use of large blocks of hashtags is primarily an Instagram convention.
Start With Obvious Hashtags, Then Add the Not-So-Obvious
There are two types of hashtags: the obvious and the not-so-obvious. Obvious hashtags are the ones you can think of immediately, like #scuba, if you own a scuba diving school, for example. A quick search on Twitter and Instagram confirms that this hashtag is used a lot. (Or plug the hashtag into a tool like RiteTag — see below.) Other fairly obvious points:
While #scuba is specific to scuba diving, #diving includes results for both scuba and high diving (so avoid using the latter).
The single word #scubadiving is popular as well (so use both for complete coverage).
Related words to your topic will usually be good as hashtags (think #underwater, etc.). Check the tools below to help you find related hashtags.
The location of your tweet or photo is usually always a good idea to include (#maui #hawaii #littlebeach).
The Not-So-Obvious hashtags are those that would also reach your audience but fall into one of the following patterns:
Synonyms of your main hashtags that don’t easily come to mind…
Obscure acronyms or slang words you would never have thought of on your own…
And the most important of all: hashtags that have nothing to do with your topic and are hugely popular, which you could use if only you could think of some way to hitch onto one of these irrelevant but highly trafficked hashtags — without coming across as spammy or annoying. If you could, then you would become more creative and open up doors to new customers and followers. See the creativity section below!
The first two of these not-so-obvious types of hashtags (synonyms, slang words, acronyms, etc.) can be discovered with the aid of some tools. Here are links to the best, using #scuba as an example:
RiteTag ➚ The overall best hashtag tool I’ve encountered so far is RiteTag. If you supply only one “obvious” hashtag for your topic, such as #scuba, you’ll get a two lists right away: one list is of the most popular related hashtags (under the heading “get seen now”) and the second list is titled “get seen over time” (maybe a euphemism for “not so popular”). Sometimes a third list will show related hashtags with nearly zero traffic, aptly titled “do not use”. You can see the traffic stats next to each hashtag. This tool alone is usually enough for everything you need.
Hastagify.me ➚ Here we see a cool interactive tag cloud of related words and synonyms to our main hashtag of #scuba. #GoPro and #PADI are interesting, but note that the useless #diving hashtag is shown as well, so be conscientious of the suggestions you choose to use. (Always use RiteTag to see which hashtags, such as #diving, command much less traffic.)
Keyhole.co ➚ Keyhole.co has a similar tag cloud, and a few more insights, such as that Twitter has a lot more coverage, a list of users who used the hashtag (including the most influential users), location data, demographics, sentiment analysis, and more.
FocalMark ➚ (app) This is a nicely made, simple app, targeted for Instagram. Simply provide some adjectives describing your photo and you’ll get a bunch of related hashtags you can copy and paste into your post.
GetHashTags.com ➚ Additional synonyms and correlation ratings, may be handy to cross reference here from time to time.
Tagdef If you don’t know what a tag means, for example #ff, you can find out here. Ahh… “Follow Friday”. A quick Google search reveals that this is just a spam hashtag, although one of the top hashtags of all time. Avoid these “follow-trains” at all costs. Trying to get traffic from the #ff hashtag is like trying to perform SEO for the search term “website”, but even worse than that, as these “follow-trains” are considered spam.
TrendsMap (Paid tool) With TrendsMap you can see what the top hashtags are by any location in the world, as well as a host of other data.
By using these tools you will get complete hashtag coverage and also ensure that you get seen by a large percentage of your market as opposed to getting lost within the sea of popularity by using only one or two super popular hashtags.
The last type of not-so-obvious hashtag can only be discovered using creativity. There’s no tool, other than your brain, that can help you with that, but here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing.
What day is it? It’s April 22nd? Can you tie in your product or service with #earthday? How to do it? Maybe plant a tree outside your business, take a beautiful picture of it, and bam! Now you can add #earthday to your normal list of hashtags and get those extra views and added appreciation. It could easily work for scuba diving (as illustrated above, along with #couple for the nice couple in the image :). Plan tweets and pics for every major holiday or special day that you can. (Hint: this will probably make you a more fun and interesting person in general.)
Politics / Movements
Want to jump on the presidential bandwagon (or circus train)? Put #trump into RiteTag. Look at the results. Do you own a funny T-shirt company? Maybe it’s time to make a T-shirt with a #covfefe joke. You could then promote your business using #tshirt, #tshirts, #lol, #funny, #fashion — which alone would get you the basic coverage for that market — but add #covfefe to your hashtag list and you’ve opened a whole new marketing door! This forces you to be creative enough to think of a good new joke/product and gives the world a new choice of funny T-shirt. This is how to elevate your marketing game.
More Ideas? Do you have your own ideas about how to hitch onto other great hashtags? Leave us your ideas in the comments section below!
The Reddit Connection
In my previous guide about content marketing on Reddit, I detailed how to discover great subreddits you can use to market yourself. If you think about it, you can see that subreddits are almost like hashtags. In fact, Reddit could have been built off hashtags and retained nearly the same functionality. Going back to the #scuba example, we can try searching for the /r/scuba subreddit, and — lo and behold — it exists! With almost 32,000 subscribers to boot.
Not only can you possibly market your content in this subreddit, but you can pull new hashtag ideas from this subreddit’s sidebar, such as oceans, freediving, underwater photography, PADI, SSI, NAUI, BSAC. CMAS, and more. If you plug all of these terms into RiteTag you may see that one or more of them have strong usage as a hashtag, and if applicable to your content, you should always include them in your block of hashtags.
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