#Hashtags aren’t as cool as they once were. Social media like Twitter and Instagram thrived on hashtags to promote content and connect followers with brands.
But hashtags are quickly losing favor on social media. A Next Web study found that more than half of consumers don’t search for hashtags or use hashtags on their own content.
Why are hashtags dying and how can you continue to use them for success with your content strategy?
Purpose of the Hashtag
Hashtags were created as a way to filter relevant content for social users. Individuals search for a keyword in the search bar, and social posts with those keyword-hashtags pop up in search results.
For example, you’re looking for articles about work-life balance. You can go on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to search #worklifebalance. The most popular and recent posts that also have the hashtag #worklifebalance will appear.
The goal of hashtags is to gain new impressions by targeting relevant searchers. They can help connect you to a wider audience and allow you to reach people who aren’t already in your follower list.
Instagram and Twitter make it easy to search with hashtags, even on mobile devices. Facebook and Pinterest also allow hashtags, but they’re less common. LinkedIn and other forms of social media typically focus less on hashtags and more on keyword searches.
Decline of the Hashtag
This presumes that all hashtags are appropriate and relevant. If you search for #worklifebalance and an article about vacuum filters appears in search results, you’d likely be frustrated that the results weren’t relevant to your search.
This is what’s been happening with the hashtag world recently:
Spammers and bots are targeting popular hashtags at high rates, even if the hashtag isn’t relevant to the content. This adds “noise” to the social sphere, when the purpose of hashtags is to cut through the noise.
These “spam magnets” are growing quickly, and users are beginning to feel unsafe with their own content on these sites.
This was especially amplified by the recent NY Times newsflash that celebrities and influencers are buying fake Twitter followers. These followers are actually computers and bots that steal real users’ information and accounts.
These bots don’t just boost the numbers of followers and likes that a celebrity gets. They can actually be used to track consumer interaction and even sway public opinion.
Because of bots spamming thousands of tweets on the same hashtag, users are losing favor searching via hashtags.
Moreover, social media algorithms are growing increasingly intelligent. Hashtags were meant to help users speak “computer language” to cut through the noise of the internet. Now, though, these platforms are able to speak “human language,” making it easier than ever for users to interact with social media.
Consumers no longer need to go searching for content they want to see. Algorithms optimize relevant content based on intelligent technologies and pattern tracking software, bringing content right to the consumer.
Rather than searching for #worklifebalance, Twitter and Instagram already know you’re interested in work-life balance content based on the content you like and share. They’ll automatically push work-life balance images and blogs to the top of your feed without you even having to type in the # symbol.
The purpose of hashtags was to help find relevant searchers and create impressions, but now social media algorithms do this automatically. Thus, now the goal is to create great content and present it in a way that algorithms will optimize.
How to Use Hashtags
Even though hashtags aren’t as cool as they used to be, they’re not dead in the water just yet. A number of consumers are still using hashtags to search for content, and it’s still one of the easiest and fastest ways to gain impressions on certain social media sites.
Plus, nearly half of users say they don’t look at the accompanying text or caption of an image on social media. If people aren’t paying attention to the text anyway, it probably doesn’t hurt to include hashtags.
Hashtagging won’t hurt you; it just may not be your greatest marketing asset like it once was.
So how can you use hashtags in a way that will connect with and grow your audience?
1. Avoid hashtag overload.
You should use 1-3 hashtags on Twitter and 1 or 2 on Facebook. These should be highly relevant and specific. Too many hashtags will appear spammy, causing you to actually lose followers.
On Instagram, you can use more hashtags. However, we recommend “hiding” these hashtags from the text caption and image. You can do this by putting the hashtags below the caption (by entering spaces in between) or by putting the hashtags as a separate comment. This emphasizes the image caption to while still benefiting from the hashtag searchability.
2. Choose hashtags based on keywords.
If you had to select one word to describe or categorize this piece, what would it be? That should be your hashtag.
In most cases, we recommend hashtagging the keyword of your piece. Most blogs are optimized for a specific keyword, and you’ll likely want to use this for your hashtag as well. Keywords are the phrases customers use to search for your content on search engines and social media as well.
You want to choose hashtags that are most relevant to your piece, especially since you only have limited hashtags to use. Avoid tangential hashtags that your topic is only vaguely about.
3. Choose low competition hashtags.
If you choose a hashtag that is too popular, your post will get lost in the shuffle, especially with the influx of bots targeting popular keywords. But if you use keywords that are too obscure or unique, people won’t search for them.
Thus, you want to conduct hashtag research to find the most relevant hashtags. We recommend the following for hashtag databases:
HashAtIt is free, and it works for hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
HashTracking focuses on Twitter and Instagram hashtag analysis.
Keyhole tracks hashtags that are trending right now.
4. Have a strong content strategy.
With changing algorithms, you’re going to need to focus less on hashtagging and more on the content itself. These sites will be able to track and promote high performing content based on keywords and user behaviors.
The more valuable your content, the more favorable it will appear on social search results and pages.
5. Foster a relationship.
The purpose of hashtagging is to find new searchers and gain impressions. But social media is quickly moving away from this focus on impressions.
For example, with Facebook’s algorithm change, business content will not appear on users’ news feeds unless they’re already followers. This means social media is quickly becoming a platform for fostering relationships and interactions with followers and customers as opposed to building new impressions.
If you can build a strong relationship with your first circle of users (your customers and brand fans), they’ll share your content through word-of-mouth marketing and sharing.
The best way to create interactive social posts is through the PAS formula (problem-agitate-solve). Present a problem in the caption of the social post, like the Tweet or the Facebook text, and then link to a blog or downloadable that solves that problem. This attracts a relevant audience who wants to address that problem and then encourages them to click through to find that solution.
You should also post in social communities. This makes sure your content is seen in relevant audiences without the use of hashtags. Examples of community content forums include LinkedIn and Facebook groups, Medium, Visual.ly, YouTube, and Vimeo.
6. Build links.
If customers link back to your social pages and website, it “builds links” that look favorable to search algorithms. In fact, link building is growing increasingly more important than hashtags.
In fact, Marketing Land reported that hashtags were only in 30% of Super Bowl ads this year, compared to last year’s 45% and 57% during the height of hashtagging. The primary promotion tool this year was URLs. It’s the first year that website URLs have actually overtaken hashtags.
This says something about the power of the link as opposed to the power of the search. Building links is not only good for SEO, but it also creates a more direct link from prospect to brand. You’re directing people to your website first and foremost, rather than through a secondary social channel.
One of the best means of promotion is to link build for others in your industry. If you share content by another brand or influencer, tag them on social media. These “sources” will check out your content and they might share it with their followers. This helps build your reach and your own authority within the industry. Most sources will thank you for building their links by promoting you in return.
You should also focus on promoting your best content on social. The more you promote your core backbone pieces, the more likely you’ll see impressions. Make sure you include a call to action that turns impressions into likes, follows, and downloads.
Hashtags aren’t “cool” anymore, especially with an influx of bots and spam. But hashtags aren’t completely out of the marketers’ handbook yet. You can utilize hashtags to your advantage through comprehensive hashtag research and a strong content marketing campaign.