A Rant About the Proper Use of #Hashtags

KenMueller
Ken Mueller Owner/Partner, Inkling Media

Posted on July 22nd 2013

A Rant About the Proper Use of #Hashtags


hashtag proper use
Been a while since I’ve had a good rant here, but a friend brought something to my attention on Facebook recently that really irritated me. I think what bothered me the most, was that it was a status update on a business page by a social media professional (read: #TheyShouldKnowBetter).

After seeing several similar updates, I finally let loose with a little rant on Facebook, and turns out I struck a chord. Quite a few people weighed in and told me that I was saying what they had been thinking. So I figured I’d bring my rant over here.

So here’s the status update that set me off:

If #YOU had to #change in order to #succeed with #YOUR#social media efforts – could you?

If you answered YES to this question….congrats! If you answered NO – HOW CAN I #HELP YOU? Change, despite being necessary at times, is not easy!

Now, first off, even if you strip the hashtags out of there, the update itself doesn’t really say anything. It’s business gobbledygook, with inappropriate use of all caps, as well as sounding like something out of a Stuart Smalley sketch on Saturday Night Live or some kind of inspirational infomercial.

But the worst part of this was the use of hashtags. Or should I say, the misuse of hashtags.

A few months ago I wrote about the many different ways that people use hashtags, but didn’t really get too much into the misuse of them. Some of the more common uses are related to events (either planned or unplanned), to organize materials by subject, as memes, or even as punchlines. These are all fine.

There are a lot of folks who bemoan the use of hashtags on both Twitter and Facebook, but I think their objection is less about hashtags themselves, and more about the misuse and abuse of them. In fact, I’d says the misuse and abuse of hashtags is very much akin to some of the shady keyword techniques used by some for SEO purposes.

I think there are a few rules you should follow when choosing and using hashtags, so as to make them both effective and unobtrusive.

1. Choose your hashtags carefully

Don’t just hashtag words willy nilly (#YesIJustSaidWillyNilly). In the above example, the words that were hashtagged were among the most generic words you could choose. #You? Really? When choosing a hashtag, think about why you are hashtagging it. Most likely, it is not for your readers. It’s more for helping other people discover your when they click on a relevant hashtag.

For instance, in the above example, about the only phrase that I think could be hashtagged would be #SocialMedia, and even that might be a stretch within the context of the update. A good example might be if you’re writing something about baseball, you could use #MLB or perhaps #MajorLeagueBaseball. 

2. Use hashtags sparingly

While hashtags can be great in terms of discovering and organizing information, don’t overuse them. It’s rare that I would ever consider using more than one or two in any given update. In fact, don’t use them in EVERY update as some people do. And if you think a particular item is relevant with multiple hashtags, space them out. Sometimes when I tweet out a blog post, I’ll append it with a relevant hashtag. Then the next time I tweet it out, I’ll use a different but equally relevant hashtag.

When people see too many hashtags their eyes glaze over. It looks like spam. Often when I see folks using four or five hashtags, it appears as though they are just covering their bases, using every possible iteration of certain phrases the same way they use keywords on websites, just to make sure they don’t leave anything out.

Also, don’t just use hashtags because you can. If every post, update, tweet, etc has a hashtag, it just looks like you’re trying to sell something.

Don’t do that. Hashtags only work when they are relevant and take you some place meaningful when you click on them, which brings us to the third point.

3. Test your hashtags

Don’t just throw a pound sign in front of a word or phrase and make it a hashtag. Test it out. Make sure it’s something that is relevant and in use. Click on them and see what other types of content shows up. If you end up with a random pool of unfocused material, skip that hashtag. Use only the ones that will bring people to you to find what it is that you are offering. Click on hashtags like #You, #Your, and #Help and you’ll know what I mean. They don’t take you to anything meaningful, or dare I say, helpful.

Don’t know how to test them? Simply go to Facebook and change your status update setting to “Only Me.” Then put a few hashtag options in an update, publish it, and start clicking to see what you find. You’re the only one who will see it, and you can delete it when you’re done testing.

Hashtags

 

And if after your testing you discover that there are several good, relevant hashtags, you have to make some decisions. First, choose the one or two that are most relevant. If there are more than two, then consider multiple updates over a period of time, rotating the hashtags. Using the same hashtag in repeated tweets or Facebook posts doesn’t give you any sort of advantage.

By misusing hashtags, you are only turning people off, and thereby reducing the effectiveness of them for those who are trying to use them properly.

Think before you hashtag. #OK?

KenMueller

Ken Mueller

Owner/Partner, Inkling Media

The founder of Inkling Media, where he does social media and marketing for small and medium-sized businesses. He also is an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, teaching continuing education classes in social media and inbound marketing.
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Comments

JodyRaines
Posted on July 23rd 2013 at 9:58AM

Ken, 

I do see a lot of misuse of hashtags, but I also see a huge increase inHashtags since Twitter aquired Instagram. It's a longstanding practice in Instagram to use # to help others find your content.  I think much of what people are seeing now, and perhaps complaining about, are the multiple hashes used on Instagram.   

Ray_anne
Posted on July 26th 2013 at 4:01PM

Ken-

Thanks for the rant - I think.  

I think there are people who do not really understand the purpose of the hashtag and simply use it because they incorrectly suppose they should or want to appear "with it" -- I liken it to when we first dove into all this digital communication and people were leaving their CAPS locked not fully understanding its meaning.  

Some of us have been hashtagging on Twitter for years - I love that other networks have adopted it and added it as part of their search function.  I love hashtagging and will continue to use it.  When you have late adopters getting into the game, you need to expect that some will dive in wthout knowing all the rules.  Kind of like men refusing to stop for directions and women who join the corporate world with unrealistic expectations.  There are always rules.  Learn them and apply them if you want to be taken seriously.  If not, don't.  

Instead of getting all worked up, why don't you just sit back and assume the "misuser" isn't as smart or as hip as you?  #LifeIsTooShort

-Rayanne

Courtney Hunt
Posted on July 27th 2013 at 11:37AM

I wrote two pieces about Twitter hashtags over a year ago. The first was kind of a primer:

I followed that up with a decision making flowchart that was was featured here on SMT:

A year later, most of my advice still stands - and may even be more necessary than ever! And as Ken's example illustrates, it's not just later adopters who are guilty of hashtag misuse and abuse. In my experience, early adopters and enthusiasts are among the worst culprits.

Courtney Hunt
Posted on November 8th 2013 at 7:57PM

I've just updated both the blog post and the decision-making flowchart. Here are links to each:

http://denovati.com/2013/11/twitter-hashtags

http://www.slideshare.net/Denovati/twitter-28043555

Nancy Arter
Posted on July 29th 2013 at 4:39PM

Great article!  And, yes, I too have wondered about the incessant use/abuse of hashtags.  The tips you provide here are really good and will act as an excellent guide to not over-use!  Nicely done!

Cherita Ellens
Posted on August 12th 2013 at 2:47PM

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this article; so on the money. The misuse and abuse of the hashtag reminds me of how adults look to youth when unsuccessfully referencing pop culture in a vain attempt to look relevant. Not a good look..... It doesn't appear genuine, which we all should know by now is what's most important to the consumer.

Sujai C
Posted on August 31st 2013 at 2:22PM

Ken,

Very good article..gotta know about hashtags usage in details and how effectively we can use it.

Thanks a ton!!!

cowgirl_17
Posted on November 15th 2013 at 7:22PM

Why use hashtags at all????

 

ShalondaGordon
Posted on November 18th 2013 at 7:34AM

Ken,

Awesome article.. you really brought clarity to a few things for me.. and I appreciate it.. make it great and keep smiling

willclark218
Posted on February 12th 2014 at 12:42PM

thanks for this... not only does it provide great insight to the use of hash tags but also points to success in search engine ranking by posting relevant content. Up until now I have been stubborn in jumping on the social media train for reasons that extend far beyond the pervue of this venue... thanks again... following