Even if you are not a social media user, you’ve probably seen a hashtag. The anatomy of a hashtag is a pound sign (#) followed by a word. They look like #this. Hashtags are commonplace on television shows, billboards and have even been used in printed magazines to encourage people to use them online. They are most commonly used on Vine, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram as a way to categorize posts.
Before we dive into common mistakes, let’s take a look at a hashtag used properly. A well-crafted tweet that uses a hashtag looks something like this:
Here’s a great resource for writing magnetic headilnes - http://urlgoeshere #blogging
The author of this post lets people know that this tweet falls into the general category of blogging.
Why Hashtags are Important
Hashtags give context to the content of your post. On Vine, for instance, using the hashtag #Nashville will help my followers understand where my six-second video was recorded.
In addition to context, hashtags on Vine, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram are clickable, allowing your followers to find similar posts about the same topic.
Lastly, hashtags provide a way to have a public and organized discussion. If you’ve ever seen a flood of tweets from someone you follow, and each one uses the same hashtag, it may be because they are participating in a Twitter chat or are at a live event. The hashtag allows other people to identify a discussion they may want to be a part of.
Common Hashtag Mistakes
While hashtags are generally easy to use, they are just as easy to abuse. Here’s a list of five common mistakes hashtag users make:
1. Breaking Hashtags with Punctuation
As a general rule, always remember that punctuation breaks hashtags. It is a common misconception that any characters following the pound sign that are not separated by a space will be clickable. This is not true. Here’s an example of a broken hashtag:
Only the word blogging will be hyperlinked to a stream of other posts. Anything following the first hyphen will show up as text that is not clickable, and therefore not actually part of the hashtag.
As with any rule, there is at least one exception. Our friend, the underscore, can be used in hashtags. As a possible solution to our broken hashtag above, we could replace the hyphens with underscores:
Just because something is permissible, however, does not make it beneficial. Like URLs with dashes, hashtags with underscores are not best practice. I avoid using underscores in hashtags whenever possible. They are hard to remember, hard to type (especially on a phone) and therefore hard for other people to adopt.
2. Using Too Many Hashtags
Hashtags can extend the reach of your post beyond your list of followers. It can be tempting to pack as many hashtags into a Tweet as possible to reach more people, like this:
Here’s a great resource for writing magnetic headlines – http://urlgoeshere #blogging #bloggingforprofit #headlines #socialmedia #resource #wordpress
This is spammy. Stick with no more than three hashtags to avoid annoying your followers.
3. Using Hashtags That Are Too Long
There are two reasons why long hashtags are not a good idea. The first is that reading long hashtags is like reading a run-on sentence. They’re hard to read, and there is only a small chance that others users will care to use them. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Twitter doesn’t allow you to use more than 140 characters for a tweet. You should save characters where can – unless, of course, #YoureJustUsingALongHashtagForFun.
Keep your hashtags as short as possible.
4. Being Redundant
Another common mistake is posting a tweet that includes a hashtag of a word mentioned earlier in the tweet. Here’s an example:
I really enjoy blogging about social media. #blogging
To save characters and avoid being redundant, this should be rewritten as:
I really enjoy #blogging about social media.
5. Not Using PascalCase
PascalCase is a term most often used in web development to describe how phrases with multiple words but no spaces are joined with capital letters. It is just as applicable to hashtags. Let’s take a look at an example:
This hashtag is extremely hard to read. It’s hard to tell where each word begins. Now let’s take a look at one that uses PascalCase:
Aside from the fact that this hashtag is too long, it is much easier to read than the previous example. If you ever use more than one word in a hashtag, do everyone a favor and use PascalCase.
What About Hashtags on Facebook?
You may see hashtags in your Facebook news feed from time to time. This is likely because one of your friends is posting to Facebook from Vine, Instagram or Twitter.
Hashtags have not been adopted by Facebook and therefore do not function as they do on the sites listed above. They are not clickable.
In short: don’t use hashtags on Facebook.
You’re All Set
You now know how to use hashtags without making five common mistakes. Have you seen any other mistakes that people make when using them? List them in the comments below.