Confused? Understanding Hashtags on Social Networks

Posted on June 28th 2013

Confused? Understanding Hashtags on Social Networks

ImageFacebook was the last of the major social networks to introduce the hashtag earlier this month. This has been greeted by mixed emotions ranging from excitement by those who use it on other social networks, to confusion at this strange symbol suddenly appearing in status updates, to indifference. Check out the informal poll run on our Facebook page which captured these sentiments.

Are you #Confused? Here is a quick guide on understanding hashtags. It will enable you to use them with confidence and impress your friends and colleagues! The information presented here should translate across the major social networks which all use hashtags (with some minor variations).

So what exactly is a hashtag?

My simplified definition is hashtags are like keywords which can be used to organize messages on a social network. This then facilitates  the searching and grouping of messages with given hashtags. Hashtags are preceded by the pound sign (#) and can be a word or a short phrase (i.e. #Hashtag or #ThisIsAHashtag)

More technical definitions can be found on Wikipedia and Wiktionary.

An interesting look at the life and different uses of the hashtag across history can be found in this Infographic.

Who defines hashtags?

You do. You can place a pound (#) sign in front of any keyword(s) in your message and turn them into hashtags. However, the power of hashtags comes from other people using the same keyword(s) so that by clicking on a hashtag you can get a group of other messages on that topic.

How can I use hashtags?

Typical uses of hashtags:

  • Express emotions: #surprised #speechless #frustrated
  • Identify places or brands or events: #Hawaii #Ferrari #CoolEvent
  • Make recommendations: #MustRead #MustWatch #NowPlaying
  • Connect with like-minded individuals: #CatLovers #TVaddicts

Hashtags should make your messages easier to organize and find. The trick is to hashtag keywords that other people would use when looking for the content contained in your message. You can do a quick search for keywords prior to posting your message to see which hashtags are popular (called “trending”).

Three common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Hashtagging every word (i.e. #I #am #so #excited #today)
  2. Hashtagging the same word more than once (i.e. It is my #birthday. Here is a photo of my #birthday cake, my #birthday presents, and my awesome #birthday party!)
  3. Separating keywords. If your keyword is “black cat” your hashtag should be #BlackCat. If you write it as #Black #Cat this will give you two different keywords: “black” and “cat”.

Where can I place hashtags?

You can use hashtags anywhere in your message – in the main body itself or as a postscript at the end. Here is an example with a hashtag in the main body of the message and two hashtags at the end.

Check out this #awesome site:
#SocialMedia #Marketing

Why should I use hashtags?

Two reasons:

  1. Increase exposure
  2. Organize content

Both of these are compelling reason to use hashtags on your personal messages. They are even more compelling when it comes to using social media to promote your business.

What about privacy on Facebook? (source)

If you write a post with limited privacy (ie. Friends), then only those who you have authorized to see the post in the first place will be able to find your post when they search for the hashtag.

If your post’s privacy is set to public, then anyone searching for that hashtag will be able to see your post.


Ready to go out and conquer your social networks with hashtags? Please share this article to help and impress your friends and colleagues.

Still #Confused about hashtags? Feel free to get in touch or post questions in the comments below.

image: hashtags/shutterstock

Faris Samawi

Faris Samawi


Faris is passionate about technology and marketing. He founded to help small business develop and improve their online presence and make sense of the social media confusion by educating and empowering them. When working with clients, he emphasizes the need to link social media activity to business objectives in order to get real results beyond 'likes' and 'retweets'.

He spent the last 10 years working with multinationals in Europe and in the Middle East where he currently resides. 

In addition to the blog, Faris maintains his own personal blog,

See Full Profile >


Posted on September 23rd 2013 at 1:29PM

This is a lot informative article and i enjoyed reading it. As hashtags are being used everywhere, this article is helpful for anyone to know about the power of hashtags. Thanks!


Adma Maharjan, Community Manager at Simplify360

Faris Samawi
Posted on October 3rd 2013 at 6:42PM

Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for your feedback. 

Alexey Karlov
Posted on September 29th 2013 at 12:00PM

what do you think about VISUAL search with hashtags?

Faris Samawi
Posted on October 3rd 2013 at 6:51PM

You mean using hashtags to help search (read) a page more quickly by highlight keywords with hashtags? 

Kristy Streb
Posted on April 3rd 2014 at 11:53AM

Hi Faris,

Thanks for the informative article.  I just starting using twitter @KristyStreb is me.. how do I associate a hashtag with my business?  Or at least my twitter name?

Thanks for any help you can give me!



Posted on April 23rd 2014 at 10:00AM

Can hashtags be used in LinkedIn, Pinterest and Goggle+ posts?  I know FB.