7: Hashtags - why and how to use them for a business


Hi everyone,

Welcome to episode 7 of Your Social Media Journey. Hope you are doing well and thank you so much for tuning in. In today’s podcast, I will dive deep into what it takes to expand your viewership on Instagram and Facebook using hashtags. If you have a small business or are thinking of setting one up, this episode is for you. Over the past ten years or so, I built my own business, Fair Cake, using social media as a major marketing tool. Not only do I have lots of experience in using social media as a channel for business marketing, it is pretty much all I talk about to other business owners! So grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee and let’s get into this!

Now that Instagram and Facebook are moving towards becoming e-commerce websites, where users can shop directly from there, without leaving their platform, it makes sense to understand what you can do to maximise the chances of your product or service being found on social media. This move towards a shoppable instagram might not seem important, especially if you have your own website where you do all the selling - but it IS! The potential future is that instead of going to Google and looking for a particular product or service, social media users will stay inside these platforms, such as Facebook or Instagram, look THERE for a product or service and check out without leaving. Facebook or Instagram will then get in touch with the vendor with dispatch details and process payment .The customer will not even visit the vendor’s website! Now do I have your ears?! Well, all you have to do is have a kickass social media presence so that when this change is rolled out to all businesses, you are right there with yours and do not miss out on this amazing opportunity. This is being trialled with just a few select brands at present and the response from customers AND the brands has been overwhelmingly positive, so be prepared for this to be rolled out to all businesses soon!

In order to understand how you can maximise your business’s potential on social media, let’s talk about hashtags. Yes, hashtags. They are a very important part of being seen on instagram and can help your account in being discovered. Once your account IS discovered, it is then your job to keep your audience engaged by serving high quality content. I did a podcast a few weeks ago about creating content - it was episode no. 2, have a listen if you are interested in content creation for social media - it is especially useful if you find yourself stuck with the what-to-post-today question! Right, on to today’s topic.

The word “hashtag” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2010, and the Scrabble dictionary in 2014. Hashtags, it seems like, are here to stay. (though, quick side note, we thought that Google Plus was here to stay and would become as big as Facebook, sooo… yeah, that did not happen). So hashtags are not going anywhere in 2019 :) Now hashtags have only been around since 2007, in fact, they can be traced back to a single tweet sent by one Chris Messina, if you are interested in how they came about, check his website out, its chrismessina.me or search for Chris Messina on Twitter. I love geeky things like that - it brings out the inner geek in me, inner geek in me is a nice person!

Using a hashtag on your posts is simple, you simply add a hash # sign before your word or phrase. You can use single or multiple hashtags on your posts, depending on the social network you are using. The reason you would use a hashtag is simple - you want your post to be found when someone else clicks or taps on the hashtag. If your account is public, anyone who is searching for that particular hashtag will be able to see your post. Using hashtags correctly will yield better engagement on your social media accounts and this will lead to more leads, more exposure as a business and ultimately, more sales. Now who here does not want more sales?! If your posts are showing up in front of the right audience, you have won half the battle towards engaging in a high quality conversation with your ideal audience.

Having said all of that, it is important to understand how and why hashtags work, why they DON’t work and how you can use them to your maximum advantage. As with all things social media, this podcast is relevant now, summer 2019, because I am SURE things will have changed in just a few months time.

The reason you used to use hashtags in the first place would be to add more description to your posts on social media. If you have a personal account, and you are having a frustrating evening trying to do something and you wanted all your friends to know that you were having a frustrating evening, you would have posted (or probably still do) a picture of yourself or anything that is making you frustrated, and add #frustrated to the caption. It replaces an entire sentence. At least this is how it started. Soon, people started using them as witty comments and an unwritten rule appeared that one did not use a replacement for space in hashtags. If you have been using computers for as long as I have (#Istartedin1995) then you will know that spaces were not allowed in file names? Does anyone remember that? And instead of using spaces, we would use the underscore. Anyway, fast-forward to social media, you will be hard-pressed to find underscores in hashtags. Its a thing! Now hashtags are information rich words that can help you get more traffic to your feed. And the more traffic to your feed results in more interest in what you are doing and ultimately this will lead to more sales.

Now, as a business user for hashtags, you need to ensure that you are using them correctly. It will be absolutely pointless for you to appear in hashtag searches if you used hashtags such as #frustrated or #love to further define your posts. The REASON you use hashtags, as a business, is SO that your posts appear on users’ newsfeeds when they are searching through a particular hashtag. So, if you have used #shoes in your post about your handmade moccasins for babies, it won’t get your post anywhere because last time I checked, just on Instagram, #shoes returned 94.3m posts. If you use #babyshoes, you are still competing with 1.6m posts. If you use #handmadebabyshoes though, your post will show up amongst the 18.1 thousand posts - a much better number to stand out in. The idea is that if anyone out there is following this hashtag, your posts will start showing up in their newsfeed - and, if you have compelling pictures and great captions, that someone will then go on to buy your products from you, or share your post with a friend who might become your customer.

Let’s start with how you can use hashtags before diving into how to hashtag correctly for maximum exposure.

You can join in on conversations with hashtags. How? Say you are attending a wedding with the hashtag, #amyandtomgetmarried. It is now surprisingly common to see wedding invitations that encourage all guests to use a particular hashtag. With such a specific hashtag, all the guests will be able to see all the pictures and videos that were taken at said wedding - and the bride and groom (and perhaps their parents/siblings/best man/woman etc.) will be able to go to each post and personally thank the guests. So, it can be one giant social media party. Similarly, if there is a conference or event that encourages attendees to use a particular hashtag, all the attendees will later be able to not only re-cap on what they saw and heard, they will also be be able to connect with speakers or other attendees after the conference. Finally, a general interest hashtag, such as #gameofthrones or #universitychallenge will bring up all the latest conversations happening about that particular topic. If you are running a competition, you can create a specific hashtag so that everyone that posts using that hashtag can be found by you.

So you can see how hashtags work and users use these to find further information about a particular topic they are interested in. You can also see why using a very general hashtag, such as #love is not useful. I mean, its beautiful, who does not like love, but it is not useful as a business! Interestingly, hashtags, work very well on Instagram - you are allowed a maximum of 30 and there is absolutely no shame in putting all of them together underneath the caption. Depending on your choice, you can either put them underneath the caption, or in the first comment afterwards. Both strategies work. Remember, on Instagram, you can follow hashtags. So it is possible to simply follow hashtags rather than actual accounts. On Facebook, however, hashtags are a slightly different beast. According to research done by postplanners.com, the more hashtags you have, the lower the levels of engagement on Facebook. On Facebook page, it is recommended that you use 1-3 very relevant hashtags and within the caption rather than a blatant grouping underneath the caption. It is a different audience you are talking to! On Instagram, some marketers are of the opinion that between 9-15 hashtags yield more engagement tha using all 30. Most research data suggests so. It is also, of course, possible, that it is actually quite difficult to generate 30 HIGHLY specific hashtags for each post. So one reason could be that by the time you have typed in your 15th highly specific hashtag, you are out of ideas and start adding generic hashtags and your post starts to become irrelevant for followers of those generic hashtags. And the more irrelevant your post becomes, the lower the engagement levels. Its an analysis game - try things out, keep doing what works for you and discard that does not!

So here are three ways you can use hashtags to boost your business’s presence on social media:

1. Use very relevant hashtags - If you get a lot of local custom, ensure that you are using your locality’s name in your hashtags. For instance, if you are a photographer looking for clients in a particular area, use that - #photographer is too generic, but #londonphotgrapher or #bristolphotographer immediately brings you closer to your ideal clients located near you. If locality is not an issue, make sure that you are staying specific to your product or service. If you are not sure which hashtags to use, point number two will be useful.

2. Do some digging - That’s right, dig around for what works for you. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, do a search for the most relevant hashtag in your industry. Keeping with the same example, if you follow the hashtag #bristolphotographer, you will notice other photographers using this hashtag. Look at what other hashtags they are using and bingo - you will have Rthe hashtags that YOU need to be using in order to be discovered. In general, if you can find hashtags with at least a few thousand posts behind them, they can give you a great platform to be seen on. Of course, the quality of your content matters. Simply observing the other posts on relevant hashtags will allow you to see the quality of posts that you need to be aiming at.

3. See what works for you - This is an important step and a very ignored one! You need to check what is working for you! You need to keep an eye on insights that you will have access to if you are using a business account, on whether engagement levels are falling or rising for certain hashtags. The easiest way to do this is on Instagram - keep an eye out for engagement levels. You can tell yourself what is working and what might need more work. I’ll tell you a little Instagram secret - from earlier on in 2019 until a few weeks ago (I am recording this in June 2019), if you had a business account, you could actually see where your audience was coming from - so you could tell whether they found your account in Explore or their Home feed or from hashtags. This information does not seem to be available anymore, but I am sure this will come back.

As with everything social media, ultimately, we are working with private companies, using their platforms - and they can change their mind anytime they want. How nice! However, if you keep an eye on what is happening currently and use it to your advantage, you will keep ahead of this game. My next podcast will be about using graphics and fonts and all that good stuff, to enhance your content and keep your customers interested in what you have to say or sell. If you like this podcast, please could I request a review? Especially if it’s a good one? Every single good review helps me keep motivated and producing good content that will prove useful for you and your business. An even bigger gesture would be to share this with your friends. As always, the show-notes to this episode are now available on my website, www.yoursocialmediajourney.com. Thank you very much in advance for your emails, reviews and direct messages. I try to reply to each and every one of them and deeply appreciate all of you listening out there. If you have any questions about this episode, feel free to get in touch with me. Until next time, bye for now!