COVID-19 communication design resources. Click here to learn more.

The Science of Hashtags on Social Media

social media Sep 01, 2018

Before the 2000s, we called it the pound sign, the hash, the octothorpe (well, some of us did). But since Twitter launched the feature in 2007, the hashtag has spread across all social media platforms and even made its way into our dictionaries and wedding plans.


What might be less clear, though, is what hashtags can actually do for businesses: why we need them, how they work, and how our target audiences are using them.


Hashtags are words preceded by a hashmark that are searchable on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They serve as helpful markers that make your content discoverable by users beyond your immediate followers. Hashtags can demonstrably increase engagement: according to Buffer, tweets with hashtags generate twice as much engagement.[1]


Hashtags allow audiences to scroll through relevant topics and tap into broader conversations. By using hashtags, you can connect to potential customers based on your common interests and establish your company as an influencer in your field.


Effective hashtag use is about reaching the “right” people, instead of just as many people as possible. By strategically optimizing what and how many hashtags you use, you can share your content with the people most interested in your offerings (and most likely to make a purchase).


Do some research. Effective hashtags use the most relevant and applicable words for your intended audience. Look at what keywords your competitors or other people in the industry are using. What hashtags are people engaging with the most? What hashtags are used most frequently? Twitter and Instagram both show related popular hashtags when you searcg keywords bar or view the search results page—by sifting through similar options, you might strike on a popular hashtag that works for your company.


and RiteTag are also two effective (and free!) tools to see what hashtags are popular for your keywords or industry.


Be specific. Hashtags allow you to target your message to a specific subset of an audience, and a more interested audience leads to higher engagement. Use locally based hashtags for community events and campaigns.


Use sparingly. Instead of #hashtagging #every #word #like #this, use hashtags only for focused keywords. Studies across platforms found that different numbers of hashtags work best on different platforms.

  • Twitter: According to Sprout Social, engagement actually drops when you use more than two hashtags.[2] Limit yourself to one to three hashtags per Tweet, and keep that character count short and sweet.
  • Facebook: Use one or two hashtags per post; on a platform primarily for personal communication, too many hashtags could appear desperate and overly sales-y.
  • Instagram: While Instagram allows a maximum of 30, doing so can dilute your audience and your message: TrackMaven found that engagement peaks at around 10.[3] For a cleaner aesthetic that directs focus to your caption, “hide” your hashtags below the “more” link: hit return, insert a period, and repeat a couple of times before entering your hashtags.
  • LinkedIn: A relatively new feature on LinkedIn, hashtags are less intuitive to search and use; a hashtag is only clickable on mobile, and not the online platform. However, using hashtags in your company’s About page will make your business appear in search results for a relevant keyword. Consider using one or two at the end of LinkedIn pulse posts.


Strategize by social media channel. On Instagram, hashtags are mainly used to describe the kind of content, while on Twitter, hashtags identify conversations. Some general ones, like #WednesdayWisdom and #ThrowbackThursday, are popular across platforms, but each channel has its own unique conventions for success.

  • Twitter: The mother of all hashtags, Twitter uses them to create conversations between people with common interests, or to bring together discussion about an event or issue. Review the trending hashtags, on the left-hand side of the page, and join in when they’re relevant to your brand.
  • Facebook: Because Facebook profiles are private, search results are mainly other brands, companies, and influencers. Users can search for hashtags in the search bar and view related content. Using a few well-placed hashtags goes a long way.
  • Instagram: According to Simply Measured’s 2014 report, posts with at least one hashtag see 12.6% more engagement.[4] Now users can follow certain hashtags, with grants you access to a larger interested audience. If you use hashtags in an Instagram story (with either the hashtag sticker or entering text with a pound sign), it could be featured on the top left of a hashtag page, an effective way to extend your reach.


Keep it relevant. Don’t try to plug and chug the same hashtags in every post, especially if they’re not directly related to the content at hand. Using irrelevant hashtags only serves to annoy viewers and might turn off potential customers.


Double-check formatting. Hashtags can either be inserted into the middle of a #SocialMediaPost or tacked on at the end. Punctuation breaks up a hashtag, so leave out any periods, apostrophes, or commas. If your hashtag uses a couple of words, Capitalize Each Word To Ensure Legibility and make the hashtag easier to follow.


Try custom branded hashtags. If you’re looking to track posts for a specific campaign, event, or promotion, you might want to try creating your own hashtag. Custom hashtags should be specific and unique, so that it doesn’t get mixed up with another brand’s initiatives and so it makes sense to your followers. Keep branded tags consistent across platforms so your social media presence is clean and easily navigable.










50% Complete

Stay tuned

Stay up to date with latest courses and industry updates.