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.

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 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 and it can take up to 30, but 10-12 is considered optimum, so target for your business.

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