With millions of users sharing information and photos on social media every day, it can be an overwhelming task to make sense of it all. Because of the sheer volume of data being shared, Twitter users began using hashtags – the # sign before key words in their tweets – to help others find their posts.
Want to know what’s happening at an important event or on your favorite reality show? Enter your search term, and all of the posts that were hashtagged with that term will show up.
Hashtagging was once exclusively used on Twitter, but other social networks including Facebook and Instagram have begun allowing users to tag their posts for easier searching. While this is great news to many users – especially those trying to build a large following – there are some who misuse hashtags or use them inappropriately, causing others to find the tags annoying or even rude.
Before you tag your next tweet, status update or Instagram selfie, review the etiquette of these handy little tags and spare yourself the embarrassment of using them incorrectly.
Rule #1: Be Relevant
Everyone wants more followers in Twitter and more readers for their blog. But tagging links to your unrelated blog posts with the tag that’s on top of the current trending list is a good way to irritate others. At best, you’ll be ignored; at worst, you’ll lose followers or receive negative messages from others lambasting you for your misuse of the hashtag. If you have something legitimate to add to the conversation about a trending topic, by all means tag away. But do not try to cash in on popular topics by posting unrelated material under the guise of contributing to the conversation.
Rule #2: Make Your Hashtags Matter
We’ve all seen them: posts tagged “#randomthought” or simply “#thought” or “#idea.” The thing is no one is going on social media looking for random thoughts and ideas. Most users want to find something relevant to them. When you create a hashtag, it turns the words following it into a link. No one is going to click on a link to a random thought. They will click on a link that is relevant to what they’re looking for.
If you’re posting about a popular topic, research the tags already in use for that subject. Creating your own tags works sometimes, but you may get better results – and not irritate others – by using the already established tag. That being said, it’s okay to occasionally create your own tags that are related to your post, particularly after you have established yourself with your followers. When people get to know you, they may find your personalized tags to be amusing, but don’t overuse them.
Rule #3: Tag Correctly
Appropriately tagging isn’t just a matter of being relevant – the actual mechanics of your tag matter. Tagging every word in your post or tag isn’t polite, or even effective. Again, because the words that follow each # sign create a link, adding a tag like “#best#day#ever” is going to create three different links. Instead, tag “#bestdayever” to add your thoughts to other conversations on that topic.
Another no-no is tags that are too long. Ideally, hashtags should only be two or three words long. Tagging an entire sentence is a good way for your thoughts to get lost in the shuffle. And because tags do not use standard spacing and capitalization, oversized hashtags are hard to read. Keep it simple.
Rule #4: Do Not Overuse Hashtags
Stuff your posts with enough hashtags, and you’ll look like a spammer. Posts with as many as five or more hashtags are confusing. Ideally, you’re posts should have only one hashtag, at the most two or three. And don’t feel like you have to tag every post. Not everything you say needs to be searchable. Aim to not tag that many posts to avoid alienating your followers.
Using hashtags properly will gain you social media followers and improve your relationships with them. Make every effort to avoid these aforementioned mistakes or you may continue to lose followers and build a poor online reputation.
Jeska tweets her thousands of followers several times a day, but only uses hashtags on a few of them. A noted blogger, Jeska uses MyLife.com to stay organized online.