How hashtags make me happy (and how and why you can use hashtags)

What on earth is a hashtag?

If you’ve been wanting to ask me this question, you are definitely not alone.

Let’s start off with the basics. A hashtag is like a topic marker, a way to describe in a word or short phrase what the topic of your post is about. And the point of using a hashtag is that people can click on it and then find lots of other posts about the same topic (usually from all different people).

Hashtags have a few special qualities:

  • Of course, they have to start with a #. (This has got to be one of the few recent examples of British English triumphing over US English.)
  • They can’t have spaces. You can use more than one word but you have to join them together. For example, #AmandaKendleConsulting if you wanted to make a hashtag out of my business name. 
  • They’re not case-sensitive so you could also use #amandakendleconsulting and if you clicked on that you’d get the same results as the one with the initial capitals. Sometimes I use the initial capitals just to make the phrase clearer. Sometimes I don’t!
  • They are taking over the world. Okay, they are taking over the social media world. They started off on Twitter but have since spread to basically every social media platform there is, even Facebook. But if you click on a hashtag in Facebook, for example, you’ll only see other Facebook posts that have the same hashtag. (A more advanced bit about this later.)
So then the next obvious question is why should we use hashtags? The main reason is so that more people can find the stuff we’re posting on social media. So, for example, if you post a photo on Instagram of the beach and use a few hashtags like #perth #scarboroughbeach #workathome (see, that’s throwing words together without spaces … you get used to it!) then you might get the attention of people who don’t actually follow you on Instagram. Someone who searches for Perth, for example, will see your image, and that might entice them to look around at your other pictures, and perhaps follow you. And it works the same way no matter which platform you’re talking about – although it’s fair to say that hashtags are more widely used on Twitter and Instagram at the moment, more than on other social media sites.
The other great time to use hashtags is so that people who know about the hashtag can use it to, so that you can all see what the others are doing. For example, at the Problogger conference last month, the hashtag was advertised as being #PBevent and this meant we all posted our thoughts and updates (and pictures of cake) using the #PBevent hashtag – and could then easily see what other attendees were saying about it, too. And of course with our #businesspics challenge on Instagram, our participants use the #businesspics hashtag and then anyone can tap on it and find all of the different posts from everyone.

I asked my Facebook page followers what their hashtag questions were, so let me answer them here:

Can you have your very own hashtag?
And related – how do you start a hashtag? Well, basically, a hashtag is public property. If you want to have a hashtag that gathers only your own posts together, then you want to make it pretty unique – #AmandaKendleConsulting would work here, #myhouse would not – but you can’t stop someone else from using it as well. To “start” a hashtag, you simply use it. Once you post a hashtag it just becomes one, and it’s clickable, even if it’s only that one post you’ve done that will pop up.

How do you decide what hashtag to use?
This gets easier with practice but there are basically three different ways I decide which hashtags to add:

  • By guessing/using a kind of common sense – for example, if I’m posting about a blog post I wrote about Japan, I would use #Japan
  • By searching to see what exists already – I might search to see if #OsakaSightseeing is already a hashtag, or #OsakaSights, and if one of them has a lot of posts, choose that, in the hope that more people will see my post
  • By watching what other people do and copying them!
You can also research conglomeration of posts from different platforms that have been hashtagged with the same thing at a service like Tagboard.

How many hashtags should you use?
I tend to use a maximum of three or four regardless of the platform (often less on Twitter, they take up too many characters!). I read a Mashable report about Instagram recently which showed more hashtags are better, up to about five hashtags, and then from then on you don’t get much benefit. And yes, to answer the person who asked me on Facebook, if you use twenty hashtags every time you may lose some followers, I know I for one get kind of annoyed when there is a mass of hashtags to navigate past.

Some other random bits and pieces about hashtags that might interest you:
  • You can put a hashtag in the middle of a sentence. This is especially OK on Twitter where you have to fit so much in to a small space. So I could say

    Not sure why but my #Germany post on visiting Heilbronn (where I used to live) is having a big resurgence on the blog http://t.co/DtQYSrznME
    — Amanda Kendle (@amandakendle) October 14, 2013

  • On Twitter, people sometimes use hashtags to be funny. Or to try to be funny. Like me.

    I just unfollowed someone who complained about having to get up at 8am. #grumpymum
    — Amanda Kendle (@amandakendle) October 2, 2013

  • You can save hashtag searches for Twitter in particular so that you can easily click in and check up on your favourite topic (especially useful for conferences too).
  • Remember this is titled “How hashtags make me happy”? The main reason is that when I’ve got a few spare minutes to surf around then hashtags take me on weird and wonderful journeys around the internet. Weird, wonderful but focused journeys! Go hashtags.

Any more hashtag questions?
So, hopefully that’s answered some of the questions but I’m sure there will be more. Ask them in the comments below and I’ll take care of them. #ifican 🙂

4 thoughts on “How hashtags make me happy (and how and why you can use hashtags)”

  1. Thanks Amanda, this is super useful advice. I think many people are a little unclear about hashtags, and I know I have run hot and cold about using them, never quite being sure if I was doing the right thing. Now I know for sure – thanks for sharing 🙂

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