While hashtags can help people find your social media posts, each site treats them differently. Be sure you understand the differences so your posts receive the most benefit from their use.
Hashtags started on Twitter eight years ago and have now spread throughout the social media world. A hashtag is a keyword or phrase written as one word without spaces, preceded by the pound (#) symbol. Do not use any other punctuation or symbol in your hashtag except the underscore (_).
Hashtags started as a way to identify content around a single issue across multiple posts on Twitter. Anyone can search Twitter for a specific hashtag in order to follow that thread. General posts about The United Methodist Church are often tagged #UMC. Various individuals and groups within the church use a variety of hashtags.
On Twitter especially, hashtags are a great way to promote an event, particularly while it is happening. Participants may use a pre-designated hashtag to connect their posts to others posting about the event. Put hashtags in Tweetable Quotes, and you may generate some pre-event chatter.
Make sure you search for the best hashtag before you start using it. If you’re promoting content, you want to find the most popular hashtag related to the subject. If you’re creating a hashtag for a closed group or event, you want it to be unique. If it’s already being used for another conversation outside your group, it could cause confusion with the mixed messaging.
Hashtags also can connect posts in Twitter chats, ongoing conversations, sometimes set up with specific online meeting times.
The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race holds a monthly Twitter chat using #GCORR. Other United Methodists participate in periodic Twitter chats using #DreamUMC or other hashtags. Conversations around the Imagine No Malaria initiative are found with #NoMalaria or the new #BringChange theme.
Pinterest and Facebook
Some social media sites treat hashtags the same way as any other word found on the sites. For instance, Pinterest and Facebook treat searches for hashtags as if you were searching for the keyword(s) used.
Using the hashtags on these sites makes the words clickable and will take you to that search. For instance, clicking on #UMC will take you to other posts including the same hashtag.
Even so, some social media experts suggest limiting your use of hashtags on these two sites to those same hashtags you use on other social media platforms. For example, last year Imagine No Malaria used #CovertheNet on Facebook and Twitter as well as other sites to spread the word about a World Malaria Day campaign.
When you use the same hashtag across platforms, you strengthen the brand of that hashtag and make it easier for people to join the conversation regardless of the site they use.
The hashtags on the photo-sharing site Instagram that receive the most traffic relate to daily themes cutting across wide audiences (e.g. #MusicMonday, #TransformationTuesday).
Rethink Church has encouraged people to reflect on a different theme each day in Lent. You may see some of these on Instagram using #RethinkChurch and #40days.
Location names are also popular on Instagram, so be sure to tag the name of your city, state and/or country.
You will also find great ways to use hashtags on Instagram to promote your events.
Google automatically assigns hashtags to posts where it can discern a specific topic. Adding your own hashtag helps Google understand what your post is about. Thus, the best hashtags for this medium are descriptive and not specific to your event or location.
The top hashtag for each post appears near the top of the post. This enables people to scan through their feeds easily to find posts on subjects of interest to them.
A recent review of my own feed showed church-related posts on #Homeless and #God. As with other social media sites, I can click on those hashtags to get suggestions of other articles.
On this microblogging site, hashtags are not mixed with your content, but are listed at the end like tags on Wordpress or other sites. Here you may use any form of punctuation as well as spaces in your hashtags. So, you may use “#United Methodist Church” or “#Rethink Church.”
Hashtags on Tumblr will help people discover your feed if they are searching for related content.
More sites keep adding support for hashtags, so this trend likely will continue.
After an event or hashtagged conversation, you may use a tool like Storify to bring the larger conversation together.
Try using hashtags on your favorite social media site and see how they work for you. Do they increase your viewership? Experiences may vary, but it helps to see what works best for your content and audience.
Don’t overdo hashtag use, though. Some viewers become annoyed with too many hashtags, and the post may then be considered spam. Choose what fits best for your post.
For more information on this subject, check out “5 ways to use hashtags.”
Andrew J. Schleicher is a project coordinator with United Methodist Communications.