To Hashtag or Not to Hashtag? 

Have you ever felt like you were left out of a conversation? Stuck outside a huddled group of friends or colleagues, looking for – but never really finding – the right time to enter the discussion? It happens. But it doesn’t have to happen on social media, because we are armed with hashtags – tic-tac-toe-shaped tickets to enter any digital conversation we want. 

For businesses and influencers, hashtags offer an opportunity for content to reach a broader audience. On Instagram, where users frequently follow specific hashtags, they can be an especially effective marketing tool.  However, like many online phenomena, hashtags can be misused and overused. Let’s look at how hashtags can help, as well as a few best practices and potential downsides. 

Secure the Scrollers’ Attention 

Using the right hashtags can help marketers reach the right scrollers – otherwise known as their target audience. Especially in times of social distancing, these audiences are often sitting at home scrolling through their social feeds. They follow hashtags, which lead them to new page after new page as they fall deeper into the social media rabbit hole. 

If brands publish compelling, engaging content, they can also use hashtags to create brand loyalty with their audience. Using hashtags to encourage user-generated content (UGC), especially video content, can keep followers actively engaged with a brand and earn them tangible benefits like special offers on products or contest prizes. 

Since research shows 76% of people trust content on social media from an “average” person rather than a brand, UGC can be a powerful trust-generator and loyalty-builder for brands of all sizes. And hashtags can be a crucial component of UGC campaigns, especially on Twitter and Instagram. 

Employ Best Practices 

Since the hashtag’s inception in 2007, its uses have broadened and evolved. In 2020, hashtags are most prominent on Instagram and Twitter, and there are certain agreed-upon best practices for effective use of hashtags. Social media managers should consider the following: 

  • Keep hashtags specific and relevant.  When creating hashtags, imagine what your audience may be searching for. You can also target those already familiar with your brand with brand-specific hashtags. Companies with high name recognition can employ these most easily – for example, Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign has been wildly successful. However, companies tossing out irrelevant hashtags risk joining the wrong conversations. 
  • Be creative and engaging.  Copywriters can do some of their most impactful work by creating hashtags that go viral. These hashtags may be utilized for a launch event, an online contest or even a philanthropic cause. For instance, the Lay’s #DoUsAFlavor campaign allowed the company’s followers to vote on their preferred submission and resulted in entirely new product launches. In other words, the company turned a pun into profit. The right concise message can be transformed into a hashtag and spread across social media with remarkable speed. 
  • Use the right number of hashtags. Instagram limits posts to 30 hashtags, while Twitter has a character limit, but there are other limits to consider when choosing how many hashtags to use. Some evidence suggests using around 10 hashtags creates optimal engagement, and other studies point to using hashtags in a comment on Instagram as possibly the most engaging method. In general, avoid overusing hashtags and be as specific and targeted as possible when creating them. 

Stay Vigilant 

Applying hashtags carelessly is ineffective marketing, which is not helpful for a brand. But hashtags can also be used toward actively harmful ends. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation can be deadly, and social media is often the fastest way it spreads. All of the major platforms have seen bots spreading misinformation on the pandemic and using hashtags to do so. When deciding which hashtags to use, avoid those that have a large bot presence. Bots are often easy to identify, with mysterious profiles, no photos and long strings of numbers in their usernames. 

Deploying hashtags successfully involves creativity and constant adaptation. Staying aware of relevant social issues that could relate to your brand, creating memorable hashtags and avoiding overusing them can add value to your brand and expand its social media presence. Businesses should also stay apprised of the potential abuses of hashtags and be careful not to spread misinformation. With all this in mind, social media managers can successfully engage and grow their scrolling audiences. 


Thomas Jilk is an Account Executive in Mulberry’s Chicago office and uses his journalism and marketing skills to tell compelling brand stories for clients.