Some of you love them and sprinkle your posts with them like an over enthusiastic mother-of-the-bride with a box of confetti, and some of you avoid them altogether.

Perhaps you avoid them in case of an unintended faux pas.  Here’s a true story. A PR company, a professional PR company, was tasked with promoting Susan Boyle’s launch party for her new album.  So the smart young things got their heads together and came up with a hashtag. Now, they may have been up against it deadline-wise or there was no sanity check from outside the team – both inexcusable!  This is what they came up with … #susanalbumparty

Yep, it looks a bit like this, doesn’t it: su’s-anal-bum-party Let’s all facepalm together.

More examples of hashtag fails.

Sometimes you can take advantage of a hashtag fail, I don’t doubt for one minute that Ed Sheeran’s PR team knew exactly what they were doing here by using #sheeranalbumparty

What’s the purpose of a hashtag?

It’s a way of grouping together content on a single topic, it’s what will bring strangers to your service or products.

Hashtags of your business name are pointless and offer no value.  An existing customer already knows the name of your business, so they’ll go straight to your channel, they won’t be typing in #nameofyourbiz to find you. And new customers don’t know you exist yet, they’ll be searching more generic terms like “accountant chichester” Do you get it?

What makes a GOOD hashtag? One that has value and meaning to the reader (your potential customers). Imagine opening a filing cabinet and picking out a labelled file.  From the label, you know exactly what the contents are going to be, what the subject area is etc. That’s how a hashtag should work for you and your business. Too niche and you’ll be the only item in that “file”. Of course on “national” days, that virtual file will be big n fat, but it’s good to part of a hot topic – as long as it feels natural to do so. Here’s more on “tone of voice”.

What makes a BAD hashtag? The opposite of the above! Irrelevant, silly, childish, pointless.  #wastingyourtimehahaha.

Golden rule: do a search using the hashtag you are thinking of using.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you want to be associated with that content?
  2. Does your service/brand or business fit?
  3. Is this conversation and thread right for what I’m trying to achieve/sell/promote
  4. Would I engage with this content?

Doing your homework is key to honing the best tags (if any) for your content.

And finally, the UGLY.  #imagine #trying #to #read #a #post #like #this #quite #bloody #annoying #isnt #it?! I for one would unfollow, block, emigrate etc.

Overusing hashtags can actually cause a decrease in engagement on your posts. In fact there is reportedly a 20% difference in engagement between tweets with 1-2 hashtags and tweets with 3 or more hashtags. Make sure you’re not over doing it. Only Instagram reach really builds reach when using multiple hashtags.

So, to wrap up:

  • Do your homework - check there’s not an alternative use/meaning of a hashtag

  • Focus on your message - only include a hashtag if it’s relevant and adding value

  • Limit the number of hashtags you use on channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (Instagram can take up to 30)