Want to increase your Twitter audience size in one step? It’s simple enough: choose the right hashtags! Hashtags have become something of an integral element in today’s social media but so many people misuse, abuse them, or simply don’t know how to choose the right one. By using them wrong, you end up hurting yourself more than by not using them at all.
Don’t get me wrong. Hashtags are not a bad thing in and of themselves. The problem is that most people don’t understand the purpose behind hashtags so they just end up tacking on random words and phrases that seem descriptive or relevant yet ultimately mean nothing. Do not do this.
What are hashtags? Which hashtags should you use? Which ones should you avoid? Keep reading to find out.
The Purpose of Hashtags
The term “hashtag” simply means any word or phrase that is prefixed by the hash (‘#’) symbol. While Twitter was not the first service to use hashes — years ago, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) used hashes to signify channel names — it was the first to popularize the hashtag as a way to “tag” messages.
What’s the point of tagging a message? The main purpose is for improved search, which allows you to search all tweets that have been tagged with a particular hashtag. The result is that messages all around the Twitterverse that utilize the same hashtags can be grouped or categorized together.
And that’s how hashtags were meant to be used: to group related tweets together. If you tag your tweet with #LolSoRandom but no one else does, that hashtag is basically doing nothing for you. However, if everyone were to tag their random tweets with the same hashtag, you could then search Twitter for #LolSoRandom and find a bunch of strangely random tweets.
For a deeper look into hashtags and how they can be used in creative ways, check out Justin’s article on everything you need to know about Twitter hashtags.
Finding Relevant Hashtags
It should be apparent by now that hashtags are only useful when:
- multiple people use the same hashtag,
- that hashtag symbolizes a particular concept or topic,
- people understand the meaning of the hashtag.
If any of those three criteria falls apart, then the hashtag starts to fail at its job. It becomes apparent, then, that the difficulty of choosing the right hashtag is in knowing the hashtags that others are using, understanding what those hashtags mean, and using them the right way.
For the greatest visibility, you want to use hashtags that are popular but not too popular.
Think of a hashtag as a particular conversation (e.g., the #AmWriting hashtag denotes tweets that are about the act of writing), which means that inserting a hashtag into your tweet is similar to jumping into an existing conversation. If the conversation only has 3 participants, you won’t have a large audience. If the conversation has 3 million participants, your voice will be drowned and you leave your exposure up to luck.
How do you know if a hashtag is too popular? It’s hard to say since there are so many variables. The best thing to do is to pick a particular niche and research which hashtags are used often in that field. “Popular but specific” is a good guideline to use. There are tools on the web that will help you discover relevant Twitter hashtags and you should use them liberally.
Optimizing Your Hashtags
Once you’ve found a few hashtags that seem related to whatever it is you’ll be tweeting about, there are a few more considerations you ought to make before posting.
First, is your tweet compelling? In other words, is your tweet interesting enough on its own that it will compel others to think or respond? Or is it so boring and flat that most people will simply skip over it? Are you offering value to those who might stumble across your tweet? Hashtags might help you get your message out there, but if the message itself isn’t strong enough, the hashtags won’t help.
There’s a knack to writing tweets that go viral. That knack can be learned but it will require a lot of practice.
Second, are you spamming? Even if your tweets are wildly compelling, you should keep a close eye on the frequency of your hashtag usage. Even if your tweets are all on topic, nobody likes it when one person takes over a conversation. This is true both in real life and on Twitter, so be careful that you aren’t spamming those hashtags every chance you get.
Third, do you know how to insert hashtags? Most people who are new to Twitter tend to type out a tweet and then add hashtags at the end. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you should know that hashtags can be inserted anywhere in a tweet. Try placing the hashtag mid-tweet (while retaining comprehensibility) to see if it makes your message flow better.
Also, be mindful that you don’t overload your tweets with a million different hashtags. Each tweet should be aimed at a particular topic. Sometimes there might be overlap, of course, but try to be smart about it. Any more than 2 hashtags per tweet is probably too much.