A hashtag is a word or phrase that comes after a hash mark or a pound sign (#) and is used on social media platforms to group messages related to the same topic (i.e., #smallbiz is a hashtag used to identify a post that has information related to small businesses). Hashtags started on Twitter, but many other social platforms have followed suit, adding hashtag functionality to allow users to find messages related to specific topics.
In fact, the list of social media sites currently using hashtags is extensive: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr and Vine.
Most social platforms are getting busier and noisier, and it can be a significant challenge to attract the attention of your target audience. In order for your content marketing efforts to be fruitful, you will need to find a way to get your content in front of the right people. This is where hashtags come in. Hashtags are very important for small businesses on social media because they provide a way to give your content added visibility.
Now that we covered the value of hashtags, the next question becomes: How do I find the best hashtags for my content? Here are six tactics to try as you get started with your search for the best hashtags for your small business social media activity.
Use Twitter Search
Although hashtags are used on many social platforms, Twitter is the originator, so the site has the most extensive collection of hashtags in use.
Twitter also has an excellent built-in search engine. You can search for keywords relevant in your industry, or look for words that are directly related to your content. You can even search to see if a specific hashtag is in use and to make sure it's relevant for your content. The key when you're searching for hashtags is to look for options that are used often and in relevant messages.
The more popular a hashtag is, the better the chances that members of your target audience will do their own search for that hashtag and find your content.
Use a Hashtag Tool
If you're starting with a blank slate, it can seem like the hunt for the right hashtags will never end. Lucky for us, there are tools out there to help streamline the hashtag search by collecting usage data, sharing popularity metrics and giving you an opportunity to explore the meanings of certain hashtags. Try these tools:
- Hashtags.org — A hashtag analytics tool that allows you to search for hashtags, explore trending and popular hashtags and find definitions for popular options.
- Hashtagify.me — A hashtag search engine that analyzes the effectiveness of hashtags so you can find the best hashtags to reach your audience.
- What the Trend — A tool to explore what is trending on Twitter and why it's trending.
- Trendsmap — This tool tracks what's trending on Twitter globally, nationally and locally.
You may want to use a combination of tools to get a comprehensive view and to compare the results in order to make sure the information you are collecting is accurate.
Create Your Own Branded Hashtags
Another option when it comes to hashtags is creating your own that you can use repeatedly to promote your business and content.
Typically, the best hashtags, in this case, are those that are unique (you can use one of the tools in the section above to check if your desired hashtag already exists) and directly related to your brand. An example of this is #smallbizspark. I created this hashtag to group together motivational graphic tiles I posted on social sites from the Small Business Bonfire. It's also important to note that you don't need to do anything special to create a hashtag. All you need to do it start using it consistently in your social messages and you're on your way.
Track What Your Competitors Use
We can learn a lot from our competitors in business, and hashtag research is a great example of this. While you obviously don't want to copy what your competitors are doing, keeping an eye on the hashtags they use repeatedly can give you some ideas for your own hashtag use.
And while you're tracking your competitors' hashtags, take some time to check in on influencers in your industry and see what they're using, too. Both searches should provide you with a great list to explore further.
See What's Trending on Twitter
When you are logged in on Twitter.com, you will see a Trends column on the right side of your screen. These trends are a collection of popular topics that people are talking about on Twitter. You can view trends worldwide, in one of 150 locations, or even see trends that are tailored specifically to you based on your location and who you follow on Twitter. View this column often to discover hashtags that may be relevant to your content.
Run Your Own Test
When you have a list of potential hashtags, it's time to put them to the test. A common best practice is not to use more than three hashtags per post; in fact, one or two hashtags per post is optimal. Once you have a few options from your hashtag research, share your content in multiple messages (spread out over the course of a week or two), and use a different hashtag each time to see which performs best.
Next time you are ready to share your content on social media, try one or more of the tactics above to find the most relevant hashtags to amplify your message. And don't forget that you can use hashtags outside of social media in other marketing tactics you execute both on and offline for branding consistency and awareness.