[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect 2023 best practices.]
Hashtags can help you find new audiences for your social media posts — and new potential customers for your brand. You can also use hashtags to help build brand engagement with user-created content. Learn to leverage them correctly, and you’ll bring in a steady stream of new followers, entirely organically.
While you should aim to use hashtags in your posts, it’s important to follow the current best practices. Used incorrectly, hashtags can be (at the very least) a waste of valuable time. And at most, incorrectly using hashtags can damage your brand’s reputation.
And, just to keep you on your toes, remember that what works on social media today may not work next month. It’s important to continually re-evaluate how you use hashtags and make sure your posts are evolving as social media trends change.
3 Social Media Hashtag Best Practices
Here are three current best practices to keep in mind that apply to all platforms:
1. Carefully choose relevant hashtags
You want to use relevant hashtags that potential customers will likely search for, or hashtags that add to your content. Many brands select hashtags simply because they are popular. Using a trending hashtag can be a great strategy if it helps find followers who are interested in your content. But it only works if the hashtag is meaningful to your audience. If it isn’t relative, using it can be harmful instead of helpful.
You can use hashtag tools within social media platforms or a third-party hashtag tool that helps you select the best keyword. Another key is selecting the right level of granularity — you don’t want to pick too broad of a hashtag, such as #tech, but instead a more niche one, like #cybersecruity. Because people often search by location, local businesses or posts promoting events may want to use location hashtags.
2. Create branded hashtags and bring them full circle
You can use hashtags as part of your branding, such as using your company’s tagline or a hashtag for a specific campaign or ownable conversation. Branded hashtags also work very well to increase engagement, build community, and entice followers to create content.
For example, automotive brands use branded hashtags to encourage customers to share photos of themselves with their cars. More than 600,000 Porsche owners have shared posts about their Porsches using the hashtag #PorscheMoment, and Mazda has had considerable success with the hashtag #MiataMonday, for encouraging Miata owners to share their adventures.
And don’t forget to bring your branded hashtags or ownable conversation hashtags full circle. Be sure to use them like you would a CTA at relevant points across your content; e.g. encourage users to join the conversation by following the hashtag at the start and end of your associated whitepapers; have your video or podcast speakers plug the hashtag at relevant points within an episode, and so on and so forth.
3. Limit the number of hashtags in each post
Technically, you can create a Twitter post that’s just hashtags. And Instagram lets you put as many as 30 hashtags in a single post. But neither is a good idea. While each platform has a specific recommendation for the most effective number of hashtags, the suggested range is from two to five per post. While hashtag-stuffed posts were more common at one time, the less-is-more trend has evolved when it comes to hashtags.
When creating hashtags, consider brainstorming without limits at first and reviewing the list you come up with. It often happens that one hashtag idea may lead to an even better one to use. Then go back and carefully review each hashtag again. Ask yourself if each hashtag helps new followers find your post and if it contributes to your overall brand image. Make sure there is value in every hashtag you use.
Platform-Specific Dos and Don’ts
Because each social platform has its own best practices regarding hashtags, marketers should stay up to date on the latest dos and don’ts. These key hashtag guidelines for each social media platform are a great resource for the more nitty gritty mechanics of hashtag use.
Because the Facebook algorithm focuses on engagement, hashtags are less important there than on other platforms. However, when used strategically, hashtags can improve the reach and effectiveness of your Facebook posts.
- Use creative liberty with hashtags on Facebook instead of focusing as much on relevancy. You can use a hashtag that extends the messaging of the post.
- Consider words that your potential customers may search for on Facebook. While users don’t typically search for hashtags here like they do on Twitter, many users search for keywords.
- Spend excessive time creating hashtags for Facebook posts. Many brands use similar hashtags on Facebook that they do on Instagram.
- Use hashtags in every post on Facebook. Since it’s not the norm on the platform, it can turn off followers. Instead, use them sparingly.
According to a study by Social Bakers, Facebook posts with 1 or 2 hashtags averaged 593 interactions, posts with 6 to 10 hashtags averaged 307 interactions, and posts with 10 hashtags averaged 188 interactions.
Hashtags matter more on Twitter than they do on most other platforms. Many users click on a hashtag to see other relevant posts.
- Consider Twitter holiday hashtags to gain additional exposure.
- Keep a close eye on your topics on Twitter, since new hashtag trends pop up quickly.
- Use native Twitter Search by clicking on Explore on the left side of your dashboard and then Trending. These hashtags are personalized for your region.
- Create a recurring hashtag that gets your followers involved.
- Use trending hashtags if they aren’t relevant to your posts or audience.
- Create hashtags as an afterthought. On Twitter, hashtags are the main way people find your posts and can make a significant difference in the success of your posts.
- Create hashtags that are prone to spelling mistakes. If followers misspell your hashtag when creating their posts, you’ll lose engagement.
- Use hashtags that are all caps.
There’s been some debate about how much attention to put into Instagram hashtags. Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, announced that adding hashtags to your Instagram content won’t help much with views. But hashtags do make it easier for people to find you in search. It’s important to note that captions make a significant difference on Instagram, so make sure you use them.
- Include three to five hashtags — the number of hashtags recommended by Instagram.
- Use the ‘Follow’ hashtag feature to research potential hashtags. This allows you to see what specific hashtags other accounts and brands targeting similar topics or audiences are using.
- Use the Instagram explore page to find relevant hashtags.
- Look for ways to encourage user created content. Instagram is a create platform for custom hashtags, such as Nike Los Angeles using #PlayInside during the lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic.
- Try to be funny or ironic with Instagram hashtags the way you might on Facebook.
- Focus on very popular or trending hashtags, as your post is likely to get lost in sea of posts. You can check the popularity of a hashtag using the Instagram search feature.
While hashtags on LinkedIn aren’t as popular as on Twitter, hashtags are still important, especially when sharing unique content. However, keep the overall purpose of the platform in mind – professional networking – when using hashtags.
- Use hashtags related to the industry or topic of your post to help find new audiences for your content.
- Use the Discover More Hashtag button to help find other suggested hashtags to use.
- Use too many hashtags on posts. Aim for 1 to 3 hashtags, with five as the absolute maximum.
- Be funny or cute with hashtags on LinkedIn like you would on Facebook or Twitter. Keep hashtags professional.
Hashtags are relatively important in TikTok and are used to categorize content. While you should use hashtags to help new potential customers find your content on TikTok, brands can also use hashtags to help find potential new influencers and creators on TikTok to help spread their reach.
- Look for TikTok created hashtags for events, such as the recent #MentalHealthAwareness, #SelfCare and #LetsTalkMentalHealth created for Mental Health awareness month.
- Look for TikTok trends and jump on the bandwagon with both content and hashtags (if it makes sense for your brand). However, trends move quickly on the platform so being late to the party will make your brand look outdated/out of the loop.
- Use custom hashtags for user created content. Because of the nature of the platform, TikTok is a great place to encourage followers to create brand related content. TikTok is a great platform for a contest or a challenge.
- Use only popular and trending hashtags. Because of the high volume of content on TikTok, your content is likely to become lost in the other videos.
- Overuse #ForYou, #ForYouPage, or #FYP. Many people think that these hashtags increase views, but you content can easily become lost in these oversaturated areas.
It’s easy to add hashtags as an afterthought to your social media posts, or completely forget to connect them back to your content. But each time you do that, you’re missing an opportunity to grow your following and engagement. Because hashtags and their best practices for use can change quickly, it’s an area of social media where you must stay up to date and continually work to make sure that every character on your posts is working to help you grow your brand.