Hashtags, a beginners guide for social media

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An open book with the word hashtag written on it. A pen and glasses are placed on the book

Hashtags as a social media tool have been around for more than a decade.

From a tweet in 2007 suggesting that the pound sign  # be used to connect groups, the hashtag has been used (and misused) across all social media and has found its way into popular culture.

It has appeared on television, fashion runways, in ad campaigns and the news. In 2010, the definition for a hashtag was added to the Oxford dictionary and in 2014 it became an official word in the game of scrabble. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, many people still do not fully understand how to use hashtags. This guide is intended as an aid to remedy that.

How they work

The hashtag groups all content from a single platform under one page

On a platform such as twitter, #dogs will contain all content on twitter under that tag. Content with #dog (without the ‘s’) will appear on a separate page.

Not only do hashtags categorise content but they also make it more discoverable. Anyone who clicks on, or searches for, a hashtag will see all content related to that tag. That means that anyone can find your tagged content without following you. This provides a huge opportunity to gain followers…

While using a hashtag may put your post into someone’s feed, the primary goal is to get people to like your content. Likes are converted into followers, and followers are converted into customers. The only way to do that is through quality content.

The do’s and don’ts of hashtags

The aim is to encourage organic conversation with conversion as intent.

  • do target your audience (#worldtraveller / #newdad / #comicbookfan)
  • do create an original hashtag for your brand (#justdoit)
  • do make your hashtag platform specific (#chilling might be great for Instagram but not for Linkedin)
  • do put spaces between each hashtag (a string of hashtags without spaces means that only the first one is active).

Hashtags that are unreadable are annoying.

  • do not make them too long or too complicated (#blueberrymuffin not #purplepolkadotmuffin)
  • do not make spelling errors (you’re likely to be the only post under that hashtag)
  • do not have more hashtags than words (trying too hard makes you look desperate).

Facebook hashtags

  1. Use two or three hashtags or you will look spammy.
  2. Avoid repeated use of hashtags except for a ‘brand’ hashtag
  3. Be sure that Facebook hashtags are set to public visibility or your hashtag will only be visible to friends.


  1. As with Facebook, do not go overboard. Less is more
  2. Research trending hashtags for each post
  3. Never ask followers to retweet.


  1. Always use hashtags on Instagram
  2. Five is good, ten is better, thirty is the limit
  3. Separate your hashtags from your text.


  1. Hashtags on Google plus seem to affect SEO (Search engine Optimisation)
  2. One to three relevant tags.


  1. Always hashtag your own brand/business
  2. If you are not business, tagging a brand can offer a lot of visibility.

Research websites

Ritetag ; Twitonomyhashtagify

Related content:

Web writing 101: a guide to SEO for content creators

Photo: Gary Engelbrecht

Gary Engelbrecht Gary Engelbrecht

An entrepreneurial thinker and strategist whose major skills are communication, creativity and coordination. Developing a project and accompanying it to the end through efficiency, ingenuity, vision and expertise are personal and professional motivations. Current projects are focusing on marketing, social media and events.

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