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he #ShareYourEars Disney campaign for Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2016 invited customers to share pictures wearing Mickey Mouse Ears using the branded hashtag. Disney donated $5 to Make a Wish for every post with the hashtag on social media.
Worldwide Breast Cancer foundation surpassed fundraising goals by 317% with the #KnowYourLemons campaign. The playful hashtag spread serious educational information on signs of breast cancer for women.
NASA used #GlobalSelfie to collect photos of people’s posts of their environmental surroundings. NASA put all the photos into a stunning mosaic of the world to inspire enthusiasm for Earth Day.
This little symbol—known as the pound key ten years ago—has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Yet some brands and companies haven’t fully mastered or comprehended the power of optimizing the hashtag.
After extensive research from leaders in social media marketing, BYU School of Communications has gathered concrete answers to the often-deliberated question—how to hashtag on social media.
1.6 million people actively use Facebook every single day. This makes Facebook the most prominent social platform right now. A solid hashtag strategy can increase the organic reach of brands on this huge platform. But with Facebook, there seems to be a love-hate relationship with hashtags for one main reason.
Hashtags on Facebook work differently than other social platforms. Most people set their Facebook profiles to private, making the hashtags on posts less accessible. As a result, hashtag usage is restricted to companies, brands and influencers whose public profiles allow them to be searched and seen.
But when searching a hashtag, Facebook also gives the option to refine results. It’s possible to opt to see only posts from friends or only posts from specific groups. Hashtags can also be searched by location or time frame on Facebook. Neither Twitter nor Instagram have that function, making the Facebook hashtag process feel more organized.
AdExpresso published an experimental set of posts on Facebook, featuring photos of Elizabeth Warren and Kanye West. One had a caption saying, “In an election unlike any other, who would you pick if it came down to these two?” The second photo had the exact same image and caption adding “#RunWarrenRun” and “#RunKanyeRun.”
The results showed that the post including hashtags outperformed the first post. Companies worry about using hashtags on Facebook, due to evidence that hashtags decrease engagement. But, clever hashtags with purpose have proven effective when used correctly.
Recommended number of hashtags on Facebook: No more than one.
Optimal hashtag length: Six characters
Twitter support says, “We recommend using no more than 2 hashtags per tweet as best practice, but you may use as many hashtags in a tweet as you like.”
Tweets with more than two hashtags see a significant decrease in engagement. Track Maven, a marketing analytics software company, analyzed 65,000 posts and found that Twitter engagement was highest among hashtags with three characters or 18 characters. This seems like two opposite ends of the spectrum.
How does that work? Presumably, users like short hashtags because they’re clearer. But, sometimes people need longer hashtags to give necessary context.
Recommended number of hashtags on Twitter: One or two. No more than two.
Optimal hashtag length: Three or eighteen characters
Regardless of length, relevance will always reign supreme. The best way to optimize hashtags is to choose hashtags that are specific enough to be seen by the right people, and broad enough to reach a decent number of people.
BYU media relations manager Todd Hollingshead said, “Great hashtags can create a sense of community.” Hashtags work when people are really using it. “If the hashtag is something irrelevant like #wokeuptooearlythismorning and #mycerealiscoldbutiwantitobewarm, then it’s pointless.”
One of the most popularly circulated hashtags around campus is #BYUBound for incoming students. The day freshman receive their acceptance letters, BYU promotes the hashtag on social media. A couple of years ago, two students using #BYUBound found each other online and ended up becoming roommates.
For whatever cultural reason, (perhaps the same reason someone can get away with posting a bunch of selfies on Instagram but on Facebook that would be considered strange) Instagrammers have a lot more freedom with the hashtag.
Social media users engage with brands and companies that use multiple hashtags on Instagram. This strategy of multiple hashtags proves unsuccessful on other platforms. However, many businesses resort to hiding hashtags in the first comment section of a post, so they don’t distract readers from the real message.
Recommended hashtags on Instagram: One or two hashtags in the caption. Nine to 12 hashtags total.
Optimal character length: 21 to 24 characters.
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Another way to optimize the reach of a hashtag is to use Instagram’s analytics tool which shows the times that are most popular for any business pages’ followers.
Studies used to argue about the best times to post online to get the highest engagement and reach. Now, the debate is officially over—because every Instagram business page has its own “Follower Activity” module. The tool breaks up the day into hours, and shows the typical times followers are on Instagram during an average day. Business can know when followers are most active on Instagram and optimize the potential to see any hashtagged posts.
The evolution of the Pinterest hashtag is both interesting and confusing. Users tried incorporating hashtags, a symbol that functioned similarly on every other social platform. But, they weren’t clickable on mobile devices. In 2015, pinners found that, though hashtags were now clickable on both mobile and desktop, using a hashtag didn’t guarantee that the post would be indexed into a specific, searchable, category. Ultimately, it made hashtags on Pinterest unhelpful and purposeless.
Pinterest finally published an official statement on September 29, 2017 announcing clickable and fully-functioning hashtags on their website.
Tiffany Black, Head of Content Business Development at Pinterest, said, “It is true that in the past, I think that we were dissuading people from using hashtags.” But with hashtags becoming a major language in the marketing realm, Pinterest decided to help brands and users benefit from its power. The company recommends adding no more than 20 hashtags per post and keeping them in the pin’s description.
Recommended number of hashtags: Using hashtags on Pinterest is so new that there’s no proper research for this. The best practice is trial and error, borrowing from what’s been working on the previous platforms.
Optimal character length: See above.
Don’t feel overwhelmed looking for the absolute best hashtags. Let free tools like Hashtagify.me help. This website finds the most popular hashtags for any keyword search.
With a recent revamp in interface this month, the free Hashtag Finder makes it easy to search the database of over twelve million Twitter and Instagram hashtags. Hashtags are chosen based on their popularity, associations, influencers and a few other metrics.
But, be careful. Because of the rapid rate at which new social media content is uploaded, popular hashtags can get content buried even more quickly. The solution is to stick with hashtags that range in the 50-75 popularity scale on Hashtagify.me. Get a good variety of both trendy hashtags and more niche hashtags.
Adjunct BYU professor and CEO of Wallaroo Media Brandon Doyle explains, “Best practices in social media marketing are always changing. That’s why I’m reading every single day about what’s happening in the industry. I always want to stay ahead of the trends.”
Though the guidelines listed in this article outline best hashtagging practices, there’s no doubt things will change. They always do. Here are some leaders in social media marketing that would be valuable to keep up with: Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today and the Moz or Hubspot blogs.
All the hashtag talk can be overwhelming. But when it helps people recognize a brand, finds a target audience and successfully drives company campaigns, then it’s time to learn to use it right. Stay updated on all the latest industry news, to continue practicing relevant social media marketing strategies.
Written by Kei Akoi Clark.