Hashtags have become a household term, but some marketers are still struggling to understand the place and purpose of these little words and phrases. The effectiveness of these tiny markers is actually quite huge, when they are used correctly and strategically. Hashtags are being used on almost all of the social media heavy-hitters, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+, which means you, the savvy marketer,  need to know about them! Here’s some of the questions you might be asking about hashtags, and some helpful hints:

What’s the difference between a “hashtag” and a regular “tag”? 
A hashtag differs from a regular tag in that it is current and mainly used in social media. You can use hashtags for immediacy, whereas regular tags are more for search optimization with your blog posts, examples would be a longstanding topic or category you are tagging in your blog. For example, a tag might be ‘fashion’, whereas a hashtag would be ‘#springdresses’. Many people also use the year or date in a hashtag, which would not be appropriate in a tag (example: #spring2014)

What’s the purpose of a hashtag?
A hashtag can help keep your social media content afloat in the ocean of constant streams. A tag is useful for driving continuous traffic to your site (also important), but a hashtag will keep you relevant. A 2013 study found that although a hashtag doesn’t appear to increase visibility on Facebook, it DOES increase your chances to be retweeted on Twitter (always good!).

Hashtags and Your Company or Brand
Instagram is one of the arenas where hashtags are used the most, but there are some things that will help make all your social posts successful. First, use your company or brand name on every post. This means that when people click it, they can see every post you have made on that social service in one place. Second, use specific hashtags such as locations, which are especially good if you are posting remotely from various places such as events, or if you are posting around your travel or foodie activities.  On Instagram, although they allow up to 30 hashtags per post, research shows that an average of five is more effective. Don’t hashtag #every #single #word, as it clutters up your post, and looks superficial.  (Jimmy Fallon has a great sketch on overdoing your hashtags!)

Hashtags and Twitter
On Twitter, you  can also use multiple hashtags, but you’ll want to use the hashtags here for things like events or news. The best way to do this is to also use the SAME hashtag elsewhere, such as Instagram and Facebook, to be cohesive (example: “Come hang out with us tonight at the #Riverwalk!”). You can also check the hashtag before you post, so that you won’t be drowning in tons of similar posts. If “Riverwalk” was already being used often, you may post something like “Come hang out with us tonight at the #RiverwalkEvent2014” instead. Also, be wary of tweeting about sensitive world events (such as disaster situations like earthquakes), and then hashtagging your brand or product. Consider the feelings of your audience before you post!

For more help with social media, see all of FrontGate’s social media services!