In 2007, the first hashtag was created on Twitter, and with that, a cultural icon was born. Today, hashtags are used to invoke humor, fuel social movements, and drive marketing strategies. In fact, 75 percent of social media users use hashtags.

Hashtags represent a big opportunity for brands to inform content creation strategies, attract new followers, and be a part of relevant conversations.

Here, I'll give a high-level overview of how you can use hashtags in Twitter and Instagram to reach and engage your audience for the remainder of the year.

Twitter Hashtags

Twitter has more than 300 million monthly active users and is the birthplace of the hashtag. It's also a place that restricts its users to 280 characters (usernames no longer count towards this limit), so choose hashtags wisely.

A 2016 study by TrackMaven, a well known marketing intelligence software, that analyzed more than 65,000 posts collectively on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook found that the optimal number of hashtags for engagement on Twitter was just one, followed by two per post. In most cases, the more hashtags, the less the engagement.

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There are different ways brands can engage with hashtags on Twitter, including:

  • Be a part of or host a Twitter chat, which is a public conversation around one hashtag, led by a moderator.
  • Use hashtags for research, like discovering what your audience is reading and sharing, or what your competition is using for hashtags.
  • Use a single hashtag consistently (like a branded hashtag) as a way to file your content into categories over time that users can browse.
  • Be a part of Twitter Moments to create or curate a story on Twitter.

Pro tip: Think it through before jumping into pop culture hashtags. Can you be a relevant part of the conversation? There are many examples of 'newsjacking' (the art of injecting your message into breaking news or current events) gone wrong, though brands are savvier today since some of the worst PR mistakes were made earlier on (think: Kenneth Cole and Arab Spring back in 2011).

Instagram Hashtags

The "2017 State of Social Marketing Report" by Simply Measured reported that more than 8 million businesses are using business profiles on Instagram, and 70 percent of users follow a business. With 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram is a social network not to be ignored by brands that can tell a visual story.

There are different ways to engage with hashtags on Instagram. Here are a few:

  •  Include hashtags in your biography section that can lead to a hashtag page on the topic.
  • Create hashtags for user-generated content campaigns --Instagram is primed for this.
  • Use hashtags for Instagram Stories and location-based hashtags as a way to drive more visibility.
  • Follow hashtags (a relatively new feature) to discover content that's relevant to you and your audience.

Unlike Twitter, Instagram gives users a lot more characters for their posts (over 2,000) with a maximum of 30 hashtags--but that doesn't mean you should push the limits all the time.

According to the TrackMaven report cited earlier (keep in mind that testing your own account data is best), Instagram posts with nine hashtags saw the highest engagement rates; posts with more than nine hashtags had higher engagement than posts with fewer than eight hashtags.

Pro tip: In 2017, controversy around Instagram's "shadowban" (where users' posts were hidden if they seemed spammy) led Instagram users to take a hard look at their hashtag usage and only choose those that were most relevant to the brand and topic of the post.

Creating Branded Hashtags

According to a Simply Measured study in 2015, seven out of 10 hashtags were branded on Instagram alone. There are different scenarios where you might create a branded hashtag; here are a few:

  • As mentioned earlier, a branded hashtag can create an archive around a specific topic the company has written about, so readers can see everything that's been published by clicking on one custom hashtag.
  • A branded hashtag can be created around brand names (for example, #BMW), tag lines, products or specific marketing campaigns.
  • A branded hashtag can be used for an event a brand is attending or hosting, which has the dual purpose of promoting the event and creating community around the hashtag.

Pro tip: Make sure the hashtag is unique enough so it's not already being used in some way totally unrelated to your purpose.

Tools for Hashtag Analysis

There are many tools out there that offer data on hashtags for both Twitter and Instagram. You'll want to dive into the data because some hashtags garner different results (for example, views versus shares). Here's a handful of tools to consider:

The Bottom Line

Hashtags are easy to use but a bit more difficult to master as a brand. By putting in the time and research, you can use hashtags to garner more engagement, expand reach and gain more followers in Instagram and Twitter.