Did you know that if a nation existed whose citizens were only Selena Gomez Instagram followers it would be the 16th biggest country in the world, with a larger population than Germany or France? What? That’s just cray-cray!
If the first thing you thought after reading the above paragraph is “Who’s Selena Gomez” or “What’s a follower,” you can stop reading right now and go back to your flip phone. If you know just who or what I’m talking about, hashtag read on!
As the rest of us know, or maybe don’t know but are interested in knowing, “followers” are those who are connected with you via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Instagram. They “follow” everything you say and post. Ms. Gomez has more than 100 million of them, more than any other Instagram account holder. Take that Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and anyone with the last name Kardashian or Jenner. These diehards follow the singer’s every word, every photo, and every hashtag.
Hashtag. You know, that little tic-tac-toe or pound sign you see everywhere and right in front of words on social media? Well, it’s called a hashtag, it’s all the rage, and it’s got rules. Yep, there are right ways and wrong ways of using hashtags and I’m here to enlighten you, my millions of readers. Yeah right, Carla. #dreamon.
So, what are hashtags and how should you be using them? Wisely and carefully.
Hashtags are basically words or phrases used primarily in Twitter and Instagram posts as ways of tagging those posts to similar topics posted by others and creating searchable links to find them. For example, you post a photo of your new Golden Retriever puppy and include #goldenretrievers in the post. Well, if your account is public, your post will join the posts of others who also included #goldenretrievers in their post. And, if one of your followers clicks on that hashtag, they will be directed to a page full of photos that mention the identical subject. At the same time, hashtags allow you to easily find content that you’re looking for en masse. Some people find this cyberspace way of connecting with and engaging with others who have common interests a very exciting discovery mode.
Pretty much created by Twitter, the hashtag was designed to organize posted content by topic and keywords. This not only allows fans to find similar subject matter all in one place, it allows brands to track and measure their reach. The idea proved so popular that other platforms are now hashtag homes. Many brands and bloggers live and die by them. One place they are extremely commonplace is Instagram. Everyone hashtags their posts, but are we hashtagging the right way?
I know of what I write because I’m as guilty as the next poster in hashtagging perhaps incorrectly. Trust me, my millennial daughter loves to remind me that I don’t have to hashtag everything. Let’s remember that a hashtag’s main purpose is to group your post with similar posts. They are not ways for you to be cutesy or witty, although isn’t it fun to do so? Hee-hee.
Let’s focus on Instagram, a platform I’m familiar and comfortable with. Just like Facebook and Twitter, you have a profile and a news feed and people can follow you and like your posts. Unlike Facebook, you can only access Instagram from a smart phone or compatible tablet. The emphasis of Instagram is sharing only photos (and short videos) and your feed consists only of photos you post and the short comments you attach with them.
Instagram was created as a way of posting photographs mostly by companies and bloggers. A designer might post a photo of a dining room they’ve staged and hashtag #diningroom, #tabledecor and #dining rugs. An exercise studio might post photos of yoga poses and tag #warriortwo, #downwarddog, and #childspose. Followers can then click on those hashtags and see similar posts. That’s how it’s supposed to work. As with anything though, it has literally gone viral and now everyone and anyone has taken it to new levels.
If you log onto Instagram right now, you’ll see posts by celebs and friends, all bearing hashtags ranging from #proudmom to #lovemydog to #feeltheburn. You’ll also see some like #roadtripwiththefam and #annismybestfriend. You might also run across #just kidding instead of simple “just kidding” sans any hashtag. Some of those are okay, some not so much.
If you’re wondering how to do Instagram hashtags in a good way, you’ll notice a big difference in tags your friends include and tags professionals include. Check out this post by Heather Scott Home & Design. It’s perfection.
Now check out my recent post, which includes tags that are more clever and less product or service centered.
When I post something, I tend to either post a photo I took and really like or some interesting words. I love words and cannot get enough of thought provoking quotes or sayings. I also think of my Instagram page as an extension of my blog in some ways. I will always post a photo from a recent blog and tag my blog site in it as well as hints as to what the blog is about. Do I need to be on Instagram? Probably not. I don’t have a particular or highly sought after brand; I simply like photographs, like this one I recently posted with more straightforward tags:
I am not alone. Through smart phones, everyone is a photographer. You really can’t eat a meal or attend an event without someone taking a photo. As for the rich and famous, don’t let their photos fool you. They are most likely taken by someone whose job it is to capture their boss in the best light and then post it with perfectly worded captions. Some famous people post their own stuff; many do not.
When a photo is posted, it probably needs explaining and maybe in a hashtag. The hashtag is a major player in popular culture and is increasingly vital to the way we communicate socially. The word can be found in both the Oxford dictionary and the Scrabble Dictionary. Marketing-wise, every brand and company is on board, with some like Breathe Right nose strips actually incorporating many hashtag mentions in a clever TV ad. And who hasn’t seen Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake mockingly act out the overuse of hashtags? #veryclever #veryfunny.
It’s interesting to note that the word Instagram was chosen as a way of combining “instant camera” with “telegram.” Although it’s only been around since 2010, the free mobile app now has more than 600 million active users and was acquired by Facebook in 2012 for approximately $1 billion. It’s estimated that around 60 photos are uploaded every second and the total number of pictures uploaded now exceeds 1 billion. Holy selfie shots!
Part of the attraction is the many filters Instagram allows users to, well, use. You can tweak and edit your photo with more than 20 filters that instantly add brightness, contrast, and overall attractiveness. Ironically, if you don’t use a filter on a photo you post, you hashtag #no filter.
Hashtag Do’s and Don’ts
So how should you use hashtags? Number one, the fewer the better and the shorter the better. Remember, the intent of a hashtag is to get your content shared on sites with similar content. If a follower can neither easily read or remember your tag, your battle is lost before it even began.
Secondly, your page must be public in order for your hashtags to appear on corresponding hashtag pages.
It’s also important to know that you can include numbers in a hashtag, but not symbols like dollar signs. Spaces, punctuation, and emojis are also forbidden by the hashtag Gods. Finally, you can only tag your own posts, not anyone else’s.
Try not to use hashtags to voice your opinion. If you post a photo of the White House during your visit to D.C., appropriate hashtags might be #whitehouse, #washingtondc, or even #amercia, but maybe not #ilovetrump. Just saying.
Reserve the use of hashtags to Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is really not the place for them because the algorithms it uses prioritizes in a way that codes a long list of hashtags as too sales pitchy and they will likely be deemed as spam. If you must hashtag on Facebook, limit the number to no more than two. The same could almost also be said for Instagram and Twitter. Remember, less is more. Too many hashtags could make you come across as desperate.
Don’t be vague with your hashtags. The more specific you can be, the more targeted your audience will be. #vancouverhotels will be much more effective for a hotel chain than just #vancouver.
If you have a brand, by all means hashtag the actual brand name, but also what the brand is about. A company that leases condos on the coast of Florida would be smart to hashtag the company name, but also #floridabeachliving and #floridarentals.
In addition to the pound sign preceding tags, you might see an @, which is considered a reference to another person or company. If selected, you will be directed to that site. For example, if I put @espn on a post, you click on it and will go straight to ESPN’s Instagram page. You can also put the @ in front of your friend’s name to make sure they see that post. If you copy a post you liked, it’s common courtesy to either hashtag the original poster or include a “regramjanedoe” tag.
Hashtag things like cities, brands, trades, and subject matters like weddings and dog breeds. And remember, short and sweet and focus on specifics. Your hashtag is supposed to make finding your content easier, not harder. You want your tag to add content to your post, not convolute it.
Still, stay personal and stay on point. Even though machines and computers will put your post where you maybe want it to go, don’t you also want to do that yourself? Your posts should in a way, speak for themselves and not rely on hashtags to do all the work for you. That would just be #lazy and #uncreative.
If you just want to have fun with your Instagram page and hashtags, do. No one is saying you can’t. In fact, use hashtags to personalize your post by expressing feelings about the photo, explaining the image, and even being clever or funny. Rumor has it that posts with hashtags get more “likes” and isn’t that really what life is all about?