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February 19, 2013

It was only a few short years ago that we met our friend Twitter. Within months, everyone swore it was “over-hyped,” “unexplainable,” and my consistent favorite – “used by nobody.” But that little blue bird stuck to it, and now even your Aunt Gladys is tweeting! And with the growth of Twitter, and the dawn of the Age of Instagram, the hashtag has crept into our everyday lives. And make no mistake about it – you”re using the hashtag WRONG! But, I’m going to fix that.

Hashtags are topics, trends, subjects, and names indicated by a number sign (#) preceding a word or phrase. Like: if you were talking about me you’d hashtag #amazing #genius #geek.

Hashtags allow users to find relevant content via search. When enough people use the same hashtag, it trends, which can help raise awareness of causes and events. Hashtags are used in several fun ways. Let’s pretend we’re a record label announcing a new release:

  • Within the body of a message: Check out the latest #music release from our label today.
  • At the end of a message: We just dropped a new album from our hottest artist. Download it today! #music
  • As a poll to find and engage customers: Who do you think is the most successful rap artist from the 1990s? #music

In the first example, you would

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be able to find the tweet on the #music hashtag search whether you decided to include the # symbol or not. However, the # symbol lets people know that you are intentionally tagging it.

Now, it can be a bit different on Instagram. Most users and brands who use this app may skip any narrative, and simply just list hashtags they feel properly categorize their Ansel Adams-esque masterpiece, like here in my masterpiece:



  • Hashtags aren’t case sensitive, but you should use capital letters for clarity. Use#SmallBusiness instead of #smallbusiness. This just looks more professional.
  • Spaces do not work in hashtags. Remove spaces. Example: #StateOfTheUnion
  • Avoid using punctuation.
  • Because Twitter limits space, consider abbreviations. Example: #POTUS instead of#PresidentOfTheUnitedStates

The best way to learn about hashtag etiquette in your industry or niche is to emulate those you follow in your field. Generally, the following behavior always applies:

  • Limit yourself to no more than three hashtags per post.
  • Use trending hashtags sparingly and only when relevant.
  • Remember that celebrities, local personalities, and media companies often track their own names and brands in tags. If you insult Snooki, she may actually reply to you.
  • Place hashtags within your tweet or at the end of it. Do not lead with a hashtag.

While social media sites certainly influence each other’s designs and interfaces, they don’t function identically. Specifically, hashtags do not work on Facebook. So when you see them on Facebook, the poster is either being A) cute or B) stupid or C) lazy. If they are a person you are paying to do social media for YOU – then you need to pay someone else. Why? Although Twitter users are accustomed to seeing them and they can increase the effectiveness of a brief Facebook post, you can’t click on one and find yourself redirected to similar content on Facebook as you could on Twitter. And, currently, you can’t search Facebook through for them. Users who post hashtags on Facebook sometimes do this to appear clever, but overall this denotes a lack of social media savvy – or that their Twitter or Instagram posts are being routed through their Facebook stream to save time and effort.

About the Author

Matthew Ray

Creative Director and Co-Founder of ChatterBlast, Matthew Ray is a fan of comic books, ice cream and sitcoms from the late 1980s.

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