Are You Making One of These Common Hashtag Mistakes?
10 years ago, we called it a pound sign. Today, the hashtag is everywhere. What started as a Twitter feature made its way to networks like Facebook and Instagram, and now, everybody uses those two little sets of parallel lines to connect with others and join a global conversation.
Unfortunately, though, hashtags come with a bit of a learning curve, and all too often, these handy little symbols are the victims of misuse. Are you abusing your hashtags? Check out five of the most common forms of misuse, and what you can work around them to save face and clean up your social strategy.
1. Not checking a hashtag’s meaning
Imagine that you manage an independent online fashion boutique that has recently launched a new line, the Sugar Collection. You notice #SugarCollection trending on Twitter, and chime in with, “So excited about what’s going on with the #SugarCollection! It’s on fire right now, and we love it!” What a great marketing opportunity, right?
Wrong! As it turns out, #SugarCollection is trending because notorious art thief Antoine Sugar has set his collection of pilfered masterworks ablaze. Priceless paintings are being burned to ash, and as CNN provides live coverage of the flames, it’s encouraging viewers to share their thoughts using the #SugarCollection hashtag. Congratulations, you’ve just publicly endorsed an international crime.
Sound far-fetched? Not really—in fact, it’s happened before. You can’t afford to make assumptions about conversations taking place on a global scale, so before you jump in with your two cents, you need to do your due diligence.
2. Bad formatting
Do you know how to format a hashtag? It’s OK if you don’t. But it’s time to get it right.
You can’t use punctuation in a hashtag, even apostrophes. You can’t use spaces, either. That doesn’t mean you can’t use more than one word, though. Look at popular hashtags of the past, like #TweetYourUnpopularOpinion. Capitalizing every word makes it readable without breaking the formatting rules. Which brings us to our next point.
3. Non-specific hashtags
Imagine that you want a tweet to be discovered by people interested in learning about wedding dresses. Do you tag your tweet with #WeddingDress or #Wedding and #Dress? Do you know the difference?
If you used the first option, you’ll likely have better results, because it considers “wedding dress” together, as a phrase—if someone types #WeddingDress into their search bar, they’ll find you. If you use the second option, though, you’ll be discovered by anyone searching for “wedding” or “dress,” and neither one of those hashtags tells the whole story. Specificity makes your hashtags more rewarding.
4. Forgetting to be creative
Hashtags have taken on a valuable, non-practical role in online communication. Sometimes, a word or phrase used as a hashtag allows you to simply contextualize your statement, or to provide a humorous aside to the point you’re making. Take a look at this recent tweet from master thespian Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson:
By adding #ItAintThatDeep to his message, The Rock emphasizes the simple nature of his philosophy: put in the work, get the results. Now that’s something we can all agree on!
5. #Too #many #hashtags
I saved the easiest lesson for last. Twitter recommends using no more than two hashtags in a single tweet. Does that mean that you should use two in every tweet? No. Does that mean you should use one in every tweet? No again.
Hashtags can be useful tools for discovery and connecting with others, but they aren’t mandatory. In fact, despite their ubiquity, they’re still a bit #unnatural, and they can make any sentence look #awkward. Use them sparingly, and make them count.
So that’s that—a crash course in using hashtags responsibly. It takes practice, sure, but in time, it will be as natural as everyday communication. Hey, you learned how to speak your mind 140 characters at a time, didn’t you?