The simplest way to put it: A hashtag is just a way to categorize online posts.
If you are interested in golf, and want to know what is going on in the golf world, you might go on Instagram or Twitter and look up #golf to see what the latest news is. If you’re posting a photo yourself, and you decide you want people to be able to see it with other golf-related things on Instagram or Twitter, you may type in #golf into the description before you post the photo online.
Alternatively, a friend might post something with a hashtag like, #LMPYL. If you’re curious as to what LMPYL could mean, you could click on the link and see a bunch of posts with that hashtag. From there, it’d be safe to conclude that #LMPYL is a specific webseries where guests have the next 30 years of their lives planned out for them. Also, that host is great!
If someone exclaims, "This hashtag is trending!" it means that a lot of people are currently including that particular hashtag in their posts. This usually happens after big news, like in politics or during a natural disaster, but also happens after a major celebrity's faux pas.
How To Create A Hashtag
If you want to include a hashtag on your post, all you have to do is type the pound sign (#), followed by the word or phrase of your choice. That's really all there is to it. Still, there are some rules in regards to formatting.
If you’re going to use a phrase, the format typically omits spaces, apostrophes, and punctuation marks. Even though the search engine doesn't recognize capital letters in most hashtags, many people choose to capitalize the first letter of every individual word so that it's easier to read what the hashtag is. It's the difference between #becomeaninstagrandma and #BecomeAnInstaGrandma.
Now, there are two ways of including your hashtag into your post. The first is to embed the hashtag directly into your sentence as you post. For example, "We're having a discount at #TiffanysLamps this week! Make sure to stop by!" The second way to include your hashtag is to type it in after the text. "We're having a discount on at Tiffany's Lamps this week! Make sure to stop by! #TiffanysLamps" Notice that I didn't include any ending punctuation after the hashtag.
Building An Audience
I'm going to be upfront and say this portion of the article does not apply to most of you. Most people don't need to build an audience. However, artists and entrepreneurs might want to build an audience as they build their brands, and some people just like being internet famous.
Let's use our lamp example from before. If you want to create or use a hashtag specifically for building up your audience, do a search to see if anyone is using the phrase you want to use. If no one has used it yet, or it has been used only a handful of times, it’s perfect! Post your statuses and pictures and use your new hashtag. If your chosen one has already been used, you can try making your phrase more specific. For example, #lamp has over four million results on Instagram, but #TiffanysLamps has less than 20 at the time of writing this article. If someone named Tiffany owned a Lamp Store, guess which hashtag she should use.
Because you may have come up with a hashtag that is original, how do you get people who have never heard of the hashtag to find you? One way is to use related hashtags so people know to associate you with a certain brand, product, etc. For example, you might want to associate #TiffanysLamps with #lamps, #floorlamps, #lightingdesign, #designonabudget, etc. Even if these other hashtags have been used literally 30,000,000 times, a person can now say, "I don't know what #TiffanysLamps is, but I know what all of those other things are. I can safely deduce that Tiffany's Lamps is a lamp store." Related hashtags with 10,000 to 100,000 search results are usually the best ones to use for this sort of thing.
I usually employ a mix of hashtags. I might say, “Hey #Lamplighters, we here @TiffanysLamps are having a #LetThereBeLight sale! 20% off all in store #lamps, and free installation of #ceilingfans! Buy yours today! #TiffanysLamps #lightingdesign #lampstore”. The generic ones are there so people know what I’m talking about, and the more specific ones try to target a specific customer base (in this case, people who want ceiling fans and are into lighting design). I only used seven hashtags in all.
Can you use too many hashtags? Yes. An Instagram post has a limit of 30 hashtags, and nothing will register after that point. In addition, the closer you get to 30 hashtags, the more likely you are to be flagged as spam. Pick a handful of favorites that accurately showcase what you’re trying to do.
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you on the internet!