Ahhh, the irrefragable, irreplaceable #hashtag — the trending topic tracker, the great group aggregator — it seems to have been around forever but it no doubt has its origins.
In use since ca. 1988 in the early Internet’s IRC chatrooms to define network-wide channels [ah yes, I remember such long-standing pillars as #warez, #kcah, and #n0n00bz … or wait, were those early AOL chatrooms?].
The hashtag supposedly came into its modern “web” format in 2007 when Chris Messina, who claims to have invented them (for which he actually surpasses Al Gore, who didn’t go quite so far as to claim that he invented the Internet, but merely created it), suggested them as a feature for Twitter in 2007, a little over a year after Twitter was launched.
By 2010 hashtags were being used on television for corporate brand recognition and started to become a major social networking convention. Instagram also launched in 2010 and its user base exploded within a year, whereupon they implemented hashtags as well, further cementing their use.
Twitter, one of the top ten websites in the world, and Instagram, now in the top twenty in the world, have made hashtags standard vocabulary on the web, but how can you best use hashtags in terms of marketing and growing your business? As you’ll see, learning to use hashtags is one of the most important parts of developing a marketing and traffic generation strategy for these two huge websites (and a few others as well*).
* Other large platforms use hashtags, such as Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google Plus. Although this article is written with Twitter and Instagram as its focus, the tips contained herein will generally apply to all websites that support hashtags. But don’t forget that Twitter etiquette allows for only a maximum of three hashtags per post! The usage of large blocks of hashtags is primarily an Instagram convention.
Start With Obvious Hashtags, Then Add the Not-So-Obvious
There are two types of hashtags: the obvious and the not-so-obvious. Obvious hashtags are the ones you can think of immediately, like #scuba, if you own a scuba diving school, for example. A quick search on Twitter and Instagram confirms that this hashtag is used a lot. (Or plug the hashtag into a tool like RiteTag — see below.) Other fairly obvious points:
- While #scuba is specific to scuba diving, #diving includes results for both scuba and high diving (so avoid using the latter).
- The single word #scubadiving is popular as well (so use both for complete coverage).
- Related words to your topic will usually be good as hashtags (think #underwater, etc.). Check the tools below to help you find related hashtags.
- The location of your tweet or photo is usually always a good idea to include (#maui #hawaii #littlebeach).
The Not-So-Obvious hashtags are those that would also reach your audience but fall into one of the following patterns:
- Synonyms of your main hashtags that don’t easily come to mind…
- Obscure acronyms or slang words you would never have thought of on your own…
- And the most important of all: hashtags that have nothing to do with your topic and are hugely popular, which you could use if only you could think of some way to hitch onto one of these irrelevant but highly trafficked hashtags — without coming across as spammy or annoying. If you could, then you would become more creative and open up doors to new customers and followers. See the creativity section below!
The first two of these not-so-obvious types of hashtags (synonyms, slang words, acronyms, etc.) can be discovered with the aid of some tools. Here are links to the best, using #scuba as an example:
- RiteTag ➚
The overall best hashtag tool I’ve encountered so far is RiteTag. If you supply only one “obvious” hashtag for your topic, such as #scuba, you’ll get a two lists right away: one list is of the most popular related hashtags (under the heading “get seen now”) and the second list is titled “get seen over time” (maybe a euphemism for “not so popular”). Sometimes a third list will show related hashtags with nearly zero traffic, aptly titled “do not use”. You can see the traffic stats next to each hashtag. This tool alone is usually enough for everything you need.
- Hastagify.me ➚
Here we see a cool interactive tag cloud of related words and synonyms to our main hashtag of #scuba. #GoPro and #PADI are interesting, but note that the useless #diving hashtag is shown as well, so be conscientious of the suggestions you choose to use. (Always use RiteTag to see which hashtags, such as #diving, command much less traffic.)
- Keyhole.co ➚
Keyhole.co has a similar tag cloud, and a few more insights, such as that Twitter has a lot more coverage, a list of users who used the hashtag (including the most influential users), location data, demographics, sentiment analysis, and more.
- FocalMark ➚ (app)
This is a nicely made, simple app, targeted for Instagram. Simply provide some adjectives describing your photo and you’ll get a bunch of related hashtags you can copy and paste into your post.
- GetHashTags.com ➚
Additional synonyms and correlation ratings, may be handy to cross reference here from time to time.
If you don’t know what a tag means, for example #ff, you can find out here. Ahh… “Follow Friday”. A quick Google search reveals that this is just a spam hashtag, although one of the top hashtags of all time. Avoid these “follow-trains” at all costs. Trying to get traffic from the #ff hashtag is like trying to perform SEO for the search term “website”, but even worse than that, as these “follow-trains” are considered spam.
(Paid tool) With TrendsMap you can see what the top hashtags are by any location in the world, as well as a host of other data.
By using these tools you will get complete hashtag coverage and also ensure that you get seen by a large percentage of your market as opposed to getting lost within the sea of popularity by using only one or two super popular hashtags.
The last type of not-so-obvious hashtag can only be discovered using creativity. There’s no tool, other than your brain, that can help you with that, but here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing.
What day is it? It’s April 22nd? Can you tie in your product or service with #earthday? How to do it? Maybe plant a tree outside your business, take a beautiful picture of it, and bam! Now you can add #earthday to your normal list of hashtags and get those extra views and added appreciation. It could easily work for scuba diving (as illustrated above, along with #couple for the nice couple in the image :). Plan tweets and pics for every major holiday or special day that you can. (Hint: this will probably make you a more fun and interesting person in general.)
Politics / Movements
Want to jump on the presidential bandwagon (or circus train)? Put #trump into RiteTag. Look at the results. Do you own a funny T-shirt company? Maybe it’s time to make a T-shirt with a #covfefe joke. You could then promote your business using #tshirt, #tshirts, #lol, #funny, #fashion — which alone would get you the basic coverage for that market — but add #covfefe to your hashtag list and you’ve opened a whole new marketing door! This forces you to be creative enough to think of a good new joke / product and gives the world a new choice of funny T-shirt. This is how to elevate your marketing game.
The Reddit Connection
In my previous guide about content marketing on Reddit, I detailed how to discover great subreddits you can use to market yourself.
If you think about it, you can see that subreddits are almost like hashtags. In fact, Reddit could have been built off hashtags and retained nearly the same functionality. Going back to the #scuba example, we can try searching for the /r/scuba subreddit, and — lo and behold — it exists! With almost 32,000 subscribers to boot.
Not only can you possibly market your content in this subreddit, but you can pull new hashtag ideas from this subreddit’s sidebar, such as oceans, freediving, underwaterphotography, PADI, SSI, NAUI, BSAC. CMAS, and more. If you plug all of these terms into RiteTag you may see that one or more of them have strong usage as a hashtag, and if applicable to your content, you should always include them in your block of hashtags.
Hashtag Usage Tips
I would not recommend cutting and pasting same or similar words in your Instagram or Twitter. Please use the lists below to create a variety of useful hashtags; yes, mix-and-match keywords from different categories.
For example, do this
#productivity #smallbusiness #makeithappen #passion #blogger #contentcreator #focused #curated #businessowner #yourcompanynamehere
Do NOT do this
#business #businesswoman #businessman #businesstrip #businesscards #businesswomen #businesscard #businessclass #businessopportunity #businessowners
Instagram Specific Tip 1: Include your #hashtags in a comment on your photo, not in the post.
Instagram Specific Tip 2: If you use more than 30 tags on a post your comment won’t post.
Don’t Forget Etiquette!
Twitter etiquette allows for only a maximum of three hashtags per post. The usage of large blocks of hashtags (as depicted in all the examples in this guide) is primarily an Instagram convention.
So what are the best hashtags for my business or market?
Using the tips and tools above, let’s answer this question with concrete examples for a variety of businesses, topics, or markets. All of the following examples will feature a few obvious hashtags, their synonyms, and some extra hashtags obtained by plugging in a location and ideas obtained with creativity, as described above. The hashtags in all the examples below are color coded as follows:
■ Most popular hashtags
Great exposure but possibly short-lived, as you may be lost in a sea of popularity.
■ Less popular hashtags, but still applicable
Still provides good exposure, giving you more views over time.
■ Location based hashtags
Adds all of the exposure associated with your location. Use whenever possible!
Hashtags borne from creativity. Many of this guide’s examples use holidays as a basic way to tie in creativity. Another way is to use specific words or ideas from elements within your photo.
My Business is Handbags
First let’s start with the most obvious hashtag: #handbags. Next, let’s plug that into RiteTag. (View here). Using the tools above I found some useful, well-trafficked hashtags: #handbag #handbags #purse #purses #bag #bags #fashion #style #designer. There are a few others as well that may or may not apply, so I’ll leave this list as is. Take note of the types of hashtags marked by the color coding.
I’m writing this article on June 21st, the summer solstice, so I’ll use that as an example to increase my audience by using creativity to come up with totally unrelated hashtags. If I were selling handbags, I’d offer a summer solstice coupon. Plugging #solstice into RiteTag, I can see that I should add #summer, #solstice, and #summersolstice to my list and I’d be sure to prominently display in my post or picture that there is a summer solstice coupon for my store! (Otherwise, I’d be effectively spamming these solstice hashtags.). Finally, this example is for a handbag post in Paris, so I added #paris #france for the location.
My Business is Women’s Fitness
Let’s start with the #womensfitness hashtag. Next, let’s plug that into RiteTag. (View here). Again, let’s use the tools above and get a list of useful hashtags: #fitness #workout #womensfitness #womenshealth #fitgirls #girlswholift #gymbunny. Again, there are a few others as well that may or may not apply so I’ll leave this list as is. Finally, if I wanted to use creativity to get a lot of extra traffic from the city I live in, for example, I would take a fitness picture of a woman in my location. In this example I’m pretending this was taken in #boston #massachussets, and since the picture is taken outdoors, how about #nature #outdoors as well?
My Business is Infants
We start with plugging our obvious #infants hashtag into RiteTag, but see that this hashtag is dead, so I started with babies. (View here). We add related hashtags: #parenting #momlife #parents #mom. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #newyork #nyc #newyorkcity #manhattan and #christmas.
My Market is Cooking
We start with plugging our obvious #cooking hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #cook #recipes #recipe #chef #dinner #kitchen #homecooking. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #italy #italian #tuscany and #fathersday #dad.
My Business is Crafts
We start with plugging our obvious #crafts hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #diy #art #handmade #etsy #arts #artscrafts #craft. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #sanfrancisco #sf #bayarea and #fall #leaves.
My Business is Detoxing
We start with plugging our obvious #detox hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #diet #weightloss #health #detoxtea #bodydetox #colon. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #chicago #chitown #illinois and #thanksgiving #turkey.
My Business is Scuba Diving
We start with plugging our obvious #scuba hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #scubadiving #padi #gopro #ocean #underwater #sea. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #hawaii #maui #molokini and #mantaray #coral #coralreef #earthday.
My Business is Womens’ Shoes
We start with plugging our obvious #womensshoes hashtag into RiteTag, but find out that that hashtag is dead, so I tried heels instead. (View here). We add related hashtags: #shoes #womens #pumps #suede #leather #toe. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #london #uk #unitedkingdom and #nike #gucci #aldo.
My Business is Home Decor
We start with plugging our obvious #homedecor hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #interiordesign #decoration #home #house #decor #ideas. Finally, we use our pretend location and creativity to add #spain #barcelona and #kitchen #maple #modern #lighting #wood.
My Business is Jewelry
We start with plugging our obvious #jewelry hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #silver #gold #fashion #earrings #necklace #diamond. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #santafe #newmexico and #presidentsday.
My Business is Cosmetics
We start with plugging our obvious #cosmetics hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #makeup #beauty #skincare #face #skin #lipstick. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #austin #texas #austintexas and #sephora #mac.
My Business is Mens’ Shoes
We start with plugging our obvious #mensshoes hashtag into RiteTag, but see that this hashtag is dead, so I just went with the generic #shoes. (View here). We add related hashtags: #mens #suede #leather #toe. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #london #uk #unitedkingdom and #nike #barker #adidas.
My Business is Nootropics
We start with plugging our obvious #nootropics hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #health #brain #supplements #focus #smart #memory. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #worldwide and #study.
My Business is Pets
We start with plugging our obvious #pets hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #pet #cat #cats #animals #kitten #kittens. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #miami #miamibeach #florida and #cute #caturday.
My Business is Skincare
We start with plugging our obvious #skincare hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #beauty #skin #products #face. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #hawaii #honolulu #oahu and #lemon #cucumber #honey.
My Business is Swimwear
We start with plugging our obvious #swimwear hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #summer #fashion #bikini #swimsuit #onepiece #bathing. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #lagunabeach #orangecounty #socal #cali and #beach.
My Business is Toys
We start with plugging our obvious #toys hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #kids #fun #games #toy #bigwheel. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #seattle #washington #tacoma and #playground #grass #schoolsout #summervacation.
My Business is Travel
We start with plugging our obvious #travel hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #vacation #adventure #world #travelworld #country. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #bled #slovenia #europe and #photography #nature #lake.
My Business or Topic is Vegans
We start with plugging our obvious #vegan hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #vegans #vegetarians. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #denver #colorado and #lettuce #kale #greens #avocado #salad.
My Business is Yoga
We start with plugging our obvious #yoga hashtag into RiteTag. (View here). We add related hashtags: #fitness #health #yogapants #yogaday #yogaclass. Finally, we use our location and creativity to add #manhattanbeach #losangeles #lacounty #southbay and #summer #beach.
Creating Your Own Hashtag
Are you a trendsetter? The ultimate level of hashtag creativity may be in creating your own hashtag. Although much easier for a celebrity to accomplish (such as our venerable Mr. Trump with #covfefe), or bigger businesses who create their own hashtags and market them on TV (like Minute Maid’s #doingood campaign), it is possible for mere mortals to do this as well.
I just searched RiteTag for a hashtag idea I just invented at this very moment: #FaceMyAce (view it here). Perfect. It doesn’t exist. I checked Twitter for it as well, and reconfirmed it’s never been in use. Now, if I were to create a set of strikingly beautiful pictures about how I applied makeup in the form of an Ace of Spades onto my face (with the goal of spreading the images virally), then aggressively tag all of the pics with #FaceMyAce, and even more importantly, call other people to make their own #FaceMyAce pictures, I would be on the right track to creating a new, trending hashtag. Now, if such a hashtag had the ability to drive traffic to the right businesses, I would not only have created a new hashtag, but a new marketing channel as well.
While hashtags alone aren’t the most important factor in successful Internet marketing, they should be considered an essential part of your marketing toolkit. To take it further and stand apart: if you use hashtags as a vector for creativity as opposed to slapping them on at the end of your daily content without much thought, you are indeed taking steps to enabling greatness.