How to Choose the Right Hashtags


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  • Hashtags were originally conceived of to group tweets by topic, and this remains the most popular use case across all social media platforms.
  • When conducting hashtag research, start by gaining an understanding of your target audience and which hashtags are likeliest to reach them.
  • RMG uses a pyramid strategy to select a mix of niche and popular hashtags.
  • The number of recommended hashtags per post depends on the platform.

ESPN’s SportCenter Twitter account posted a tweet that went viral, making everyone and their mothers chime in and answer the sports account’s intriguing question: “What’s something that ISN’T a sport, but still FEELS like a sport?” Social Media Twitter had a field day, with some users tweeting “Being a social media manager in 2020.” Well… they aren’t wrong. In fact, if you’d asked me the question, I’d say choosing the right hashtags feels like sport!

Many might think it’s as easy as choosing the absolute most popular hashtags, but there’s more to it than just that. Believe it or not, there’s a strategy and a few best practices that many social media experts use during the hashtag research phase. In this article, we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of selecting the right hashtags, including the basics of hashtags, hashtag strategy, and what the experts have to say.

A brief history of hashtags

To understand how to choose the right hashtags, it’s important to understand a little bit about the history of hashtags and where they started. The concept was born during the early days at Twitter, when Chris Messina, a product designer from Silicon Valley, introduced it to the platform. Chris had various ideas on how to adopt hashtags on Twitter, but the most obvious use case was to group tweets by topics (i.e., #socialmedia), which came to be the most popular use case and the one that’s been applied across all social media platforms. 

When developing a business case for adopting hashtags on Twitter, Chris wrote his recommended use case in a blog post: “I focused my thinking on contextualization, content filtering and exploratory serendipity within the Twittosphere.” Contextualization and content grouping were Messina’s original intentions for the hashtags, and it’s exactly how everyone should intend to use the hashtag within their long term social media strategy.

How to choose the right hashtags

Choosing the best hashtags for your social media campaign can be boiled down to one marketing fundamental: knowing your audience. As with anything in marketing, a key success factor of your campaign will be how well you understand your audience.

So, take a step back and look at this from a bigger perspective. When planning out much larger marketing campaigns, you start by gaining an understanding of your target audience and how you can reach them. You might ask yourself questions like:

  • What are these users doing on a daily basis?
  • Which social media platforms are they most active on?
  • What websites or magazines are these groups of people reading?

Asking yourself questions like these allows you to dig deep and gain understanding of your audience’s behaviors. From this insight, you begin to put the pieces together around your campaign and select which channels or activities to incorporate into your campaign.

This same marketing fundamental must be echoed all the way down to your hashtag strategy. When selecting the most relevant hashtags, you should ask yourself similar questions:

  • What are the most used hashtags in my industry?
  • Which hashtags might my audience be using?
  • What are some hashtags my competitors are frequently using? 

But, it’s not enough to just look into what hashtags your competitors are using. This is a common mistake Latasha James, content creator & marketer, frequently comes across when analyzing social strategies: “Another mistake I see is using hashtags that your competition is using. What you should really be doing is using hashtags that your ideal clients use, to kind of get inside their heads.”

She says that while sprinkling in some of your competitors’ hashtags is okay, it’s likely those hashtags are not the same hashtags that your ideal client or customer is going to be using. The goal is to get your content in front of their eyes, so it’s pertinent you use those same hashtags they are using.

Selecting your hashtags: The pyramid strategy

So far, we’ve learned that understanding your audience is the foundational mindset you should have when approaching hashtag selection. But now let’s talk about how to get your hands dirty and select the most relevant hashtags to incorporate in your social media strategy.

Sure, you can jump right in the deep end and start selecting the most popular hashtags, but that will only get you so far. Oftentimes, the most popular hashtags are overly exploited and the least effective because of how frequently the hashtag is used. So, your post is likely to get lost among the flood of other accounts using that hashtag.

What you’ll need to do is use the pyramid strategy. This strategy calls for using groups of hashtags based on their popularity and usage. During your selection process, you’ll manually review hashtags relevant to your audience and categorize them based on these four categories (This is how we group them at Redefine):

  • Niche: Hashtags with less than 19,000 posts
  • Moderately-popular: Hashtags with 20,000 to 149,000 posts
  • Popular: Hashtags with more than 150,000 posts
  • Ultra-popular: Pretty much anything in the millions and billions (think #fitness or #love)

To find these hashtags: Manually review each of them using the social platform’s search bar. Check out the number of posts and review the content to see if it’s relevant to your brand/audience.

The idea behind this strategy is to leverage your niche hashtags to boost your likes and reach for upper tier hashtags. With niche hashtags, you’ll likely have smaller creators or accounts following or frequently using those hashtags, thus boosting your ability to rank for some of those higher tier hashtags. 

How many hashtags should you be using?

Ahh… this is possibly one of the most commonly asked questions for anyone in the social media space. To answer this question, I’ll use the old SEO adage: “It depends.”

When crafting social media posts, you should aim to incorporate hashtags as much as possible in your posts, but it makes more sense for some platforms over others. For example, if you’re writing a caption for Twitter, where you are limited by 280 characters, it might be a bit difficult to work in many hashtags.

Here’s a general rule of thumb that you should aim for:

  • Instagram: 30 hashtags
  • Facebook: 5-6 hashtags (when necessary)
  • Linkedin: 4-6 hashtags
  • Twitter: 1-3 hashtags. However, it’s okay to not use them at all

A word on branded hashtags

Since we are on the topic of the number of hashtags to be using, I think it’s worth also mentioning branded hashtags. You should always aim to incorporate branded hashtags as much as possible in your content. We call this out as a good practice for a few reasons that have to do with users, SEO, and brand marketing.

In general, using branded hashtags is a good practice because if users ever search for your hashtag, they’ll quickly be able to find your content. Additionally, it allows you to control the overall message on that hashtag’s search results, which is super important for brand marketers. Finally, it’s important for SEO because Google definitely uses social media as an indicator for rankings, so the more your brand is mentioned on social media, the better time you’ll have ranking in SERPs.

#GetYourHandsDirty

Does hashtag research sound like a sport now?! We hope you can take golden nuggets of information from this article and apply them to your own social media strategy! But, as always, if you ever have questions about social media or hashtag research, do not hesitate to reach out to the social media experts at Redefine. We’ll be happy to help!

We’ll end this with a tid-bit of advice from Latasha: “It’s important to remember that hashtags don’t make up for bad content.” (We got you covered there too! 😉)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason is a Cal Poly Pomona Alum, an extreme fan of marketing, and social media advocate. As a Marketing Coordinator at Redefine Marketing Group, he is responsible for the development and execution of strategy for both off-page SEO and social media marketing.
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