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Hi, and welcome to episode 16 of Startup Marketing. Today we’re going to be taking a deep dive into hashtags. Most small businesses rely on social media to reach their customers and hashtags are a great way to increase your visibility and engagement. Knowing how to use hashtags will increase your engagement. So, let’s dive in. 

The pound symbol, also known as an octothorpe, was originally used to mark numbers. When Twitter was on the rise in the summer of 2007, Chris Messina, inventor of the hashtag, had an idea to use the symbol as a way to group tweets so users could find content they found important. While an average social media user might use hashtags somewhat ironically on their personal channels, businesses can use them effectively to help grow and increase engagement on their social media platforms. Having the right hashtags is a critical part of your social media strategy. And they’re not just for Twitter anymore. A post with at least one hashtag on Instagram sees 12.6% more engagement than posts without one according to Later (an Instagram scheduling tool and partner). 

Let’s do a quick run down of the basics of hashtags in case you’re new to them:

  • First, They always start with the pound symbol, but they don’t work if you use spaces, punctuation or symbols when you type them out
  • Second, Your accounts must be public in order for hashtagged content to be visible to non-followers. It won’t matter how awesome your hashtag game is if nobody can see your post. 
  • Third, Use relevant hashtags: you want the hashtags you’re using to be relevant to the content you’re posting, because your goal is for new users to be able to discover your account. So, if you’re a food blogger, who always uses the hashtag “self love”, when someone is looking for food bloggers, they’re probably not thinking of “self love” and likewise, people searching for posts about self love may not be thinking of food. In one case, you’re missing potential new followers because your hashtag isn’t relevant to what you’re posting and in the other case, you’re attracting people who may not be interested in what you’re posting about. A better option would be to use a hashtag like “food blogger of instagram” or “food blogger life”. 
  • Fourth, Be intentional with your hashtags. It’s become popular to add 75 hashtags to the end of a post, but more is not always better. We’re going to do a deep dive into finding the right hashtags for your posts so that you don’t end up looking spammy. Having a paragraph of hashtags at the end of your post is overwhelming to the reader and usually sends up red flags about potential spam or bots. 
  • Fifth, You also want to capitalize the first letter of each word. This is something that I honestly still forget to do. When hashtags first came into existence, you didn’t do this, but over time, best practices have changed. Now, capitalizing the first letter of each word increases readability and makes your hashtags screen-reader friendly, which is crucial for users, followers and potential customers of yours with disabilities to be able to find and interact with you. 

Alright, now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, how do you find the hashtags that are the most useful for your brand? It starts with a little bit of research that’s really easy to do. 

First, start by conducting some competitor research. What hashtags do they use? Start making a list; at this time, don’t worry about keeping it small, just jot down any hashtags that would be relevant to your content. But please note: don’t steal all of the hashtags someone uses or use them in the exact same group, it’s not cool and savvy entrepreneurs and businesses will sniff you out pretty quick when they see a dip in their engagement because you’re syphoning off their audience with the exact hashtag groups they use. You’ll also want to look at what hashtags your potential customers are using. This will help give you an idea about what they’re thinking and what they find important; using some strategic hashtags from your customers will help bring you into their space and give them visibility to you.

Once you’ve got the list of potential hashtags, start typing them in to a post on Instagram. Instagram will show you how many posts use that hashtag, but it will also suggest additional related hashtags and show you the number of posts for those as well. This is useful because it allows you to see the popularity of a hashtag. What you want to do when you compile a list of hashtags is to create a good mix of popular hashtags and niche hashtags. To use an analogy, think of it like creating a list of local, regional and national groups or hashtags. The local hashtags are specific to your business: #authenticbrandingandmarketing and don’t have a large number of posts using it, think in the hundreds. A “regional” hashtag would be something like #omahamarketing. It has several thousand posts associated with it. Then you get your “national” hashtags, like #marketinglife, that have several hundred posts associated with it. When it comes to the “national” hashtags, one thing you want to make sure you’re doing is adding an extra word to your category so that you’re not using a hashtag that has millions of posts. When you get into the millions, the hashtag is considered universal and so common that it won’t really do much for your brand. Please note, hashtags aren’t actually called “local, regional and national” hashtags, that’s just my way of categorizing them and giving you a visual to help with 

Having a group of hashtags that has a mix of reach associated with them allows you to get discovered by more people. The local hashtags will help build your brand, regional and national ones help you gain visibility. It’s also important to have a mix of hashtags with different levels of reach because each time another user adds a post with the same hashtag as you’re using, your post gets pushed further down in the search results for that hashtag. So, local and regional hashtags keep you discoverable longer than national ones, where you’ll quickly get buried. But, those national hashtags are still useful because they’re popular—users will still find your post because they will spend time combing through more posts within larger hashtags. 

Once you have your list of hashtags, you’ll want to create smaller groups of them. Think 5-10 for Instagram, 1-2 for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and 2-5 for Pinterest. I build a few groups of hashtags based on my ideal customers that I can pull from easily that were based on hashtag research. This way, when I’m scheduling my posts, I don’t have to research every single time—I just add one or two hashtags that are specific to what I’m talking about in the post. For example, for when I take this podcast and put it on my social media channels, I would use these hashtags:

#authenticmarketing

#omahamarketing

#smallbusinesstips

#smallbusinesswomen

#smallbusinesssuport

#smallbusinessbranding

#smallbusinessconsultant

#socialmediatips

#socialmediastrategy

Note, there isn’t a #hashtag anything in that list because any form of it was so universal or broad that it didn’t look worth including. 

As you’re doing your research, you might see that a hashtag like “marketing strategy” has a lot of posts. Consider tweaking your hashtags with some of the following words to land your post in a somewhat smaller hashtag category, thus making it easier to get discovered:

  • “life”, saying things like “marketingstrategylife” instead of just “marketingstrategy”
  • Hashtags for your community like “marketersofinstagram”
  • Using your location: “omahamarketing”

Ok, when you google how to use hashtags effectively, you’ll find a ton of great blogs about it. One thing you will see is that a lot of them will recommend using a hashtag research tool. These tools are nice, but don’t feel obligated to invest in one. You can definitely accomplish solid research without one to get you started and not only that, but a lot of social media scheduling tools have some kind of hashtag suggestion tool built into them. 

Hashtags are so helpful to increase reach and engagement on social media. If you’re not using them or haven’t been using them strategically, now’s the time to get started! I’ve created a complete guide to using hashtags for your social media that includes everything I talked about today broken down in one easy-to-read place. Download it today at getauthenticbranding.com/resources. 

And of course, if you enjoy Startup Marketing, please rate, review and subscribe to help other business owners like you find this podcast. 

Until next time!