Understanding hashtags – what are they (and how do they work?)

Most digital-savvy business owners know a thing or two about social media – and understand the far-reaching impact it can have upon potential customers internationally. In particular, Twitter and Instagram are visually captivating platforms that are perfect for restaurants, retailers, travel destinations and beauty salons.

But Twitter and Instagram also have another unique feature – hash-tags. First introduced by Twitter, they’ve now been adopted across the board and have even worked their way into everyday dialogue. But what exactly are hash-tags, and how can they help you to more effectively promote your business and reach more people online?

What is a hash-tag?

A hash-tag is essentially a label comprised of one word or a single sentence. They are used to describe trends, items, products and situations on Twitter and other social media platforms. A hash-tag identifies the message, topic or nature of your tweet or post – and as they are searchable, this helps you to come up in popular results and join conversations with others who are discussing similar subject matter.

How do they work?

Using hash-tags to win business involves tapping in to what your audience are posting about and searching for on social media. For instance, if you are an overseas estate agent and your research suggests that users are looking for property in Spain, you should accompany posts with #property and #Spain – even adding the region along with that. If you’re a hair stylist in Wolverhampton you’ll list your most searched- for (and requested) products and services. So #hairstylist #Wolverhampton may be complemented by #blowdry #hairextensions #ombre. This means that when people are searching for posts about the above hash-tags, you may come up. This is only amplified by sharing power, as the more ‘popular’ your tweet or post is seen to be, the more likely it is to be featured highly in searches made by users who don’t yet follow you.

How do I find relevant hash-tags? How do I know which hash-tags are best to use for my business?

With so many hash-tags out there to choose from (and the ability to simply make up your own) deciding which to use in your posts can feel like a daunting and confusing prospect. However there are a few tried and tested techniques you an employ to identify relevant hash-tags that will get you noticed online.

This firstly includes checking out companies who are doing well online in a similar field to you. They don’t need to be competitors – just anyone who is noted as an ‘influencer’ online – someone with lots of followers and interaction whose posts are viewed and connected with by many. Using their hash-tags will get you seen in turn by their following.

Secondly, it’s time to do some research. This involves finding out what your target audience are talking about and hash- tagging right now so that you can tap into it. Twitter in particular possesses a ‘trending hash-tags’ feature which enables you to see what’s being talked about most within your circle of followers based on your geographical location – and this can be a handy tool to use.

If that all sounds like a lot of hard work then there are sites which enable you to locate relevant, popular hash-tags in your sector. Using these cuts down on the time you’ll spend researching organically – just make sure you choose a reputable site or software. Twitonomy and Hashtagify are two popular platforms.

How many should I use per post to see results? Is there such a thing as too many hash-tags?

In a word, yes. There is definitely such a thing as too many hash-tags – and hash-tag overkill can in fact have the opposite of the desired effect upon your audience.

Instead of filling valuable tweet space with extra superfluous hash-tags, it’s better to use an image. Posts with visuals are much more likely to be interacted with – and images will clearly demonstrate your point and complement the hash- tags used perfectly.

For more expert tips and advice on social media and implementing an effective digital marketing strategy check out our related blogs here.

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