I recently checked out the Facebook page of a new niche small business. Aside from the content being a little slim, which is understandable because it’s brand new, I noticed that every single post had 15 hashtags. Each post used the same hashtags in the same order. It got me to thinking: Are hashtags still cool? I think they are. But there definitely seems to a good, better and best ways to use hashtags.

Understanding hashtags

Hashtags are the pound symbol — # — that came to be used as a sorting device online in posts and comments. Hashtags were created for Twitter but expanded to Google Plus, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.

On Twitter, hashtags have become less useful than they were when they were first developed. For instance, “Enjoying this delicious cocktail!” will show up in searches for “cocktail” the same way that “Enjoying this delicious #cocktail!” will.  A hashtag is clickable and can help users sort out other posts with that same hashtag. But it doesn’t affect who sees your tweets or posts. One drawback with using hashtags is that they can seem like a grab for attention. Too commercial, in other words. Even though as a business you are trying to be commercial. The trick is to use them effectively in a way that serves your purpose but does not alienate people. Here are our recommendations for the good, better and best ways to use hashtags.

Good ways to use hashtags

  • Come up with a hashtag you use for your brand. If your juice cart is named “Island Juices” it makes perfect sense that a hashtag you would want to start using would be #islandjuices. First though, check to see if that hashtag is already widely in use by another brand.
  • Come up with 10 hashtags you think best represent your brand. Use them in your posts but not all at once. Three hashtags that are appropriate for the post seems cool. 15 hashtags that cover every single possible angle is overkill. Alternate these hashtags so each post has some coverage but is not too much.
  • Be specific in your hashtags. The more specific it is the more targeted your audience will be. For instance, if you’re crafting natural lotions and skincare products, #skincare will be a more targeted hashtag than #DIY.

Better ways to use hashtags

  • Use your #islandjuices hashtag in contests, such as asking your Facebook or Instagram friends to post photos of themselves with that hashtag so you can find it, and you’ll choose a winner each week to receive a free juice. Contests or promotions like this are an easy and free way to interact with your brand and costs you nothing other than the juice you give away each week. That goodwill, however, is priceless.
  • Keep them short. If you know your salon offers the best prices on manicures in the whole town, don’t choose the “#bestpricesonmanicuresever” hashtag because no one will type that many characters in. Instead, go for something like “#manitoday”.
  • Don’t have more hashtags than words in your post. There is room for using a LOT of hashtags as a joke, once in a while. But in daily practice this is not a good idea. For one reason, you might end up with followers who are spammers, because the overload of hashtags is seen as nothing but marketing promotion and the people who follow you are only interested in being followed back. These aren’t the quality followers you’re looking for.

Best ways to use hashtags

  • Not every post or comments needs a hashtag. If it’s not meant for a wide audience, leave them off.
  • Monitor them and respond. If people are using your hashtag, that’s great! Acknowledge them somehow so they get some kind of feel good reward to keep using it.
  • People search for common brand and product hashtags. When you’re posting your content, think like a customer and think about what they would search for. For example, if you’re a hair salon, post images of your hair cuts (with your customer’s permission) using the already-popular #hairstyles hashtag. If you only use certain styling products, use that brand’s hashtags.