Make your hashtag successful

How do you get the public to see your hashtag?

By Curtis Kitchen, NAA Director of Communications

There was a time when a hashtag was little more than a playing field where x’s and o’s could mingle.

They took turns strategically entering an increasingly crowded environment in hopes they could find their peers, form a group, and align themselves in a bonded way that would identify their user as a winning thought leader.

In that light, it is fun to wonder if the simple child’s game of tic-tac-toe wasn’t always just a fancy bit of social media foreshadowing.

Since first appearing in 2007, the hashtag bulled its way to the top of the social media icon list. Why? It provides a user, every user, with the instant ability to search through waves of social interactions and plug into a conversation centered on a specific keyword. Those who choose to post and include the hashtag then immediately become part of the conversation.

But, what about when you come up with a hashtag for your business or personal brand? How do you get your hashtag noticed by a public that didn’t even know it was looking for your hashtag?

Here are three good ways you can help boost your hashtag to the masses.

1. Build a free hashtag tree
The good news is that literally every single word, phrase, or sentence can be hashtagged – and most of them have been by now. The better news is that you don’t need to guess which words or tags are popular because there are many sites that already track these sorts of things.
You can search for one that suits you best, but is a free hashtag tool that seems to serve basic interests pretty well. On that site, you can search any tag you would like, and it will provide an instant map that shows the best connected hashtags for you to use in your posts along with your tag.

2. Be a social listener

Most of the biggest social media platforms now have various ways to instantly find what’s trending. Facebook has a search bar at the top. Instagram is built so that when you start adding hashtags, you can see exactly how many times the tag has been used. Twitter tag rankings are everywhere if you search.

This is all great if you’re looking for the broadest topics to hitch to your tag. But, if your goal is to target your post a bit more specifically, then you need to improve your social listening. On the social media pages or profiles you follow, what tags are used most often? What tags seem to spur the most engagement? Use those tags with yours.

3. Build solid, friendly posts

Even if social media can seem pretty unruly at times, there are definite sets of etiquette to consider as some platforms are tag friendlier than others.

Do tags go in the front? (They can.) At the end? (Probably best.) In the middle? (Does it flow?) How many tags are too many? (Depends on the platform.) Is shorter better than longer? (Always.) Can I put more than one tag in a post? (Yes, but it has to make sense.) Will people hate me if I hashtag everything in a post? (More than you know.)

In general, it’s best to state your point and put your hashtag at the end. The more confident you become in your posting skills, the more flexible you can be with this and start seeding hashtags into your posts as opposed to adding them at the end.

How many tags you should use is entirely dependent upon the platform. Twitter usually gives a normal post room for one or two tags. According to an infographic from, Facebook feedback says a post’s engagement rate is by far best with one or two tags, and is nearly cut in half when six or more tags are used. The outlier here is Instagram, which has shown engagement rates to be highest with posts containing 11 or more tags. (Weirdly, the other highest engagement rates were at an average of two, five, and nine tags, with a dip at four, seven and 10 tags.)

Remember: It’s about you

Don’t forget two important pieces as you grow in your hashtag comfort.

The first thing is that this whole adding hashtags business is to strengthen your own tag and brand. Be choosy in the company you keep instead of simply attaching yourself to anything that happens to be popular. There are a ton of seemingly innocent tags out there that, when executed, may not suitable for work. An example: singer Susan Boyle was to host an album party in 2012. The tag included the words “Susan”, “album”, and “party.” Innocent, right? The resulting tag: #susanalbumparty.

Lastly, sometimes, hashtag hijacking has a sinister and/or snarky side that can derail things quickly. McDonald’s has had the issue with #McDstories, as did Walgreens with #IloveWalgreens in a promoted post. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to guarantee your tag won’t be used mischievously. 

However, try to avoid obvious pitfalls with word choice and usage, and you should be good to go.


Bonus content: Gone in an “Insta”?

Recently, Instagram announced that it would change its algorithm so that posts would no longer populate newsfeeds based on chronological order. Instead, it will now serve those posts based on popularity and quality of a post – a structure very similar to how Facebook and Twitter now operate.

This change (as most changes are, in general) was met with public anguish, with detractors. They howled that throwing posts and tags up every few minutes or hours was no longer a guarantee that those posts would be seen. That’s true, thankfully.

Instead, it means quality posts – posts built to actually communicate or be aesthetically pleasing – will get top billing and have a better chance to be seen instead of leaving it up to timed chance to be viewed.

So, has the “insta” been removed from the platform’s equation? Technically, that’s probably true, but only because it means the worst posts will hardly ever be served and the best will get longer looks. But, if it improves the overall user experience for both marketers and consumers, so be it.