Hashtags 101: What They Are and How to Use Them
Over the past eight years, I have attended four presentations for writers and publishers about how best to use social media. Each time, the presenter has hit a stumbling block in the first 10 minutes: hashtags.
Most people who give presentations about Twitter assume the audience has some knowledge of hashtags. The truth is, for many people hashtags are still a mystery. As presenters breeze by this ubiquitous term, several in the audience raise their hands looking for clarification. What is a hashtag exactly? Why is it important? How do I use it and why would I want to?
These are important questions. Let me see if I can answer them in a clear, concise way.
What is a hashtag?
A hashtag is this symbol: #
A hashtag is also the term that follows that symbol: #ThisIsaHashtag
A hashtag is a way to sort tweets and other postings on social media.
A hashtag is a way to let others know what the theme or intended audience of your post is.
Here are some examples of hashtags that writers and editors are likely to see:
Genre-specific hashtags can be helpful as well:
You can also make up your own hashtags, and you can use more than one per post. More on that later.
Why are hashtags important?
The importance of hashtags has grown as more and more sites allow and encourage their use. Although they started organically on Twitter, they now can be used on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms.
Hashtags are a fast way to let the readers of your tweets and other posts know what topic you wish to highlight. This is especially helpful when sharing a link. If the title of the shared article doesn’t immediately reveal who the intended audience is or what the main topic of the piece is, a hashtag cuts to the chase.
For example, if you want to share a link about publishing and it’s unclear from the title that it will be most helpful for those looking to self-publish, you might add the hashtag #indiepub. Then people who see the post know who will get the most out of that information.
Hashtags can also be used to sort tweets and posts. Say you want to find all of the recent posts about independent publishing. You can enter #indiepub in the search field and a list of all the posts that use that hashtag will appear. Now you can (1) find the information you were looking for and (2) find people who are interested in the same topics as you.
Perhaps more appealing, the sorting ability means that those interested in your topic can find you. Discoverability and visibility are amplified when you include a hashtag.
How can I use hashtags for the best results?
This is the question most presenters attempt to answer but rarely get the chance, as attendees get bogged down by the basics of hashtags. Now that we have cleared up what a hashtag is, let’s consider best uses of them.
I recommend doing a combination of these three things:
- 1. Use well-established hashtags.
- 2. Create your own hashtags.
- 3. Be selective about which hashtags you choose.
We already saw the short list of relevant hashtags. Many, many more have been established for the writing/editing/publishing industry, and you should become familiar with them.
At a recent meeting of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association, Amy Mascott shared a list originally posted by Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, 100 Twitter Hashtags Every Writer Should Know. Not to be outdone, Erica Verrillo has compiled a list of 247 Hashtags for Writers.
When you use these established hashtags, you insert yourself into an ongoing conversation. Others will find you and immediately know which tribe you ascribe to. When you search for these hashtags, you can easily locate the most influential people in your industry.
Your Own Hashtags
Creating your own hashtags offers a different benefit. On a small scale you can use it to inject levity into a post. Tags like #oops or #thetoddleryears are like winking at your readers.
You can also use unique hashtags to brand your posts. Special events do this all the time. Use the event’s designated hashtag and all the world can follow the tweets related to that event. As an author you might use the same hashtag for every post about a book you are working on, such as the book title, the series title, or a phrase related to the theme of the book.
There is etiquette to using hashtags. Follow these simple guidelines to be sure you aren’t making a social media faux pas.
- Don’t use more than three hashtags in a tweet or post. This has become conventional wisdom and the reasons behind it are simple: it’s hard to read more than three hashtags, and it’s annoying. Why is it annoying? Because it looks like you are trying to game the system. Even on social media, humans prefer to associate with genuine people.
- Don’t use several hashtags in a row in the body of your tweet, like so: “Get #free #book #marketing #tips right now!” See reasons given above.
- Don’t “buckshot” your hashtags. People will notice if you always choose the most popular hashtag instead of the most relevant. Choose hashtags that relate to your post and are helpful to your readers.
Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook all recognize hashtags. (See this article for Pinterest’s limitations.) If you haven’t used them, you’ve been missing out on some great opportunities to find and be found.
With the basics outlined here you are now set to use hashtags with confidence to grow that oh-so-important network!
Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Novel Books, and other fine retailers