To Hashtag or Not to Hashtag

February 23, 2023

When drafting social copy, it can be tempting to add a cluster of hashtags to the end of a post. It’s a common misconception that adding hashtags to social posts will magically deliver your content to some elusive audience who would have never seen it otherwise. But when you examine how hashtags truly work on each platform, you’ll find that really isn’t the case.

Most people misunderstand how hashtags work. Hashtags are not a cheat code for placing a post in a certain category so it pops up on users’ feeds who are interested in that category. In order for a hashtag in your post to be seen, someone needs to search for that hashtag. In other words, a hashtag does not auto populate categorically.

More often than not, a hashtag is not needed. Why? Because people use the social media search bar like they would a search engine. Think about it—when was the last time you actually searched for a particular hashtag on social media? As an example, let’s say I’m looking to adopt a golden retriever puppy and I turn to social media to learn more about the adoption process, the breed, or to simply view some cute dog videos. Instinctively, I’ll open my app of choice, go to the search bar, and type in “golden retriever puppies” without using the # symbol, just the words. On most social platforms, those keywords will pull up the content I’m looking for. If I want to get more specific, then I can type in “golden retriever puppy adoption” or any other combination of keywords until I find what I want. You can reach your intended audience with the keywords in your social copy. No hashtag is needed.

Hashtags can also look inorganic and unnecessarily weigh posts down. Social media is made for connecting with people, so content that looks and sounds like it was written by and for real humans is going to perform best.

For example, read this post:

Just got a new #puppy! #GoldenRetriever #Adoption #Dogs #DogMom #Cute

Now read this post:

Everyone, meet my newly adopted puppy Max! He’s the cutest little golden retriever I’ve ever met. I’m so excited to welcome him home!

The latter is easier to read and much more likely to engage users.

In a world of limited character counts (and attention spans), don’t waste valuable real estate for a hashtag no one will ever search for or a hashtag that will pull up so much related content (#cute or #fun) that it inevitably buries the post. Use that space wisely to make the post more engaging or informational. Keywords will effectively get the job done on most platforms.

When should hashtags be used? Hashtags are useful for categorically curating content from a big event like a wedding or a conference. Instructing attendees to use a custom hashtag in their posts from the event helps users find those posts easily and engage with that content. The same thing goes for hashtags that are widely used by a community you’re trying to reach. If your intended audience is actively engaged using a specific hashtag, it’s safe to assume using the hashtag will likely get eyeballs on your content.

This does not mean quit using hashtags entirely but you probably don’t need them as often as you think.

Before adding a hashtag to a post, think about whether or not users will actually search for that hashtag. If not, take some time to craft better copy so the right message reaches the right audience.

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