By Frances Caballo
Hashtags seem to be everywhere these days. You can find them on billboards, in ads, and as promotions for athletic games.
I remember being at a concert a few years ago. Someone tapped me on my shoulder and asked me what a hashtag was. That doesn’t occur anymore because they are everywhere.
There are hashtags for marathons, bank anniversaries, and beer promotions. They may be prevalent, but do we really understand them? Maybe. But I thought it would be good to review how hashtags work and where and when you’d want to use them.
August 23 was the 10th anniversary of Twitter hashtags, the first place that hashtags cropped up. Chris Messina, a social technology expert, is credited with inventing the first hashtag, which happened to be #barcamp. He wanted to use a hashtag to group tweets around a common theme, a conference.
We’ve come a long way since the use of that first hashtag. According to Twitter, users now share an average of 125 million hashtags daily.
Three Ways to Use Hashtags
Hashtags work triple duty on Twitter and other social media networks. For example, on Twitter you can use a hashtag in hopes of finding readers. And you can use hashtags in hopes that readers will:
- look for your hashtag
- find your tweets
- learn about your books
For example, let’s say that you wrote a romance novel. You might use the hashtag #romance in hopes of finding new readers looking for a romance novel. Also, readers can type #romance into the search bar when they look for a new romance novel to read.
The same could be true for books that fall into a variety of genres including:
- #memoir, etc.
There’s another cool feature to hashtags: when you click a hashtag, you’ll navigate to a new page on Twitter where all of the tweets contain the same hashtag. So they can be valuable for research.
Let’s say that you wanted to learn more about book marketing. You could either use the hashtag #bookmarketing or #bookmarket in the search bar and then click the hashtag in any tweet to find more information.
So hashtags can:
- attract readers to your tweets
- help readers find your books
- serve as a hyperlink to more tweets with the same hashtag in them
Brevity Is Divine on Twitter
On Twitter, brevity is important. So for two reasons, you want to keep hashtags to a minimum of two at most. Some people use more, and I’ve seen up to seven hashtags in a tweet. Social scientist Dan Zarrella, who wrote The Science of Marketing, discovered that when someone uses more than two hashtags on Twitter, retweets decrease.
Twitter also recommends that you restrain yourself to two hashtags per tweet. If you think about it, your allowance, including spaces, is 140 characters on Twitter. And if you want retweets, you want to keep your tweets to 110 characters. With those conditions in mind, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to litter your tweets with too many hashtags. Besides, the use of seven hashtags or more begins to make your tweet look like spam.
Editor’s note: Since this article was originally published, Twitter has increased it’s character limit to 280.
How to Construct a Hashtag
With a hashtag, all words are contiguous with the hash symbol. For example, #Historical Fiction isn’t a hashtag because the word fiction isn’t contiguous to the word historical. But #HistoricalFiction is a hashtag.
Some hashtags have alternative spellings. Sometimes writers use the hashtag #HistoricFiction to shorten the longer version. The same thing happens with #ScienceFiction. If you’re looking for a science fiction book, also use the hashtag #SciFi or simply #scifi. Women’s fiction can also be shortened to #WomensFict. Typically, the first letter of each word in a hashtag should be capitalized, but more and more you see people writing the entire hashtag in lowercase. On Instagram, hashtags are always lowercased.
Sometimes authors use hashtags for authors who don’t have a Twitter account because they either are dead or haven’t joined. #HPLovecraft, #ErnestHemingway, #VirginiaWoolf, and #OscarWilde are a few examples.
There are authors who create branded hashtags to track retweets. One time a client wanted to use the initials of his website as a branded hashtag, but after I researched it we learned that it had an unsavory significance, so we abandoned the idea.
My advice is that you should always research hashtags you create to eliminate the possibility of a double meaning. TagDef is a good website to determine the meaning of a hashtag. If it doesn’t show up on TagDef, Google the word combination.
Hashtags on Other Platforms
LinkedIn doesn’t use hashtags.
You can use them and should use them on Instagram, where you can use up to 30 hashtags. When you start to type a hashtag on Instagram, the platform will suggest hashtags for you to tap on.
For a list of popular Instagram hashtags, refer to this article. You’ll notice that none of them relate to authors, but there may be some you can use. There are some fun ones such as:
- #tbt (throwback Thursday)
- and location tags
As a writer, you can share:
- book covers
- places where you like to have coffee or write
As you go through your day, think of pictures that might interest your followers and hashtags that relate to the photos you take. Have fun with it.
In 2013, Facebook introduced hashtags to its platform. On occasion people will use them but what you mostly see are hashtags people used on Instagram and then shared on Facebook. Sometimes people will make up personal hashtags to emphasize a feeling such as #afraidimaymissanotherdeadline.
Google+ also uses hashtags. They work similarly to Twitter. If you type a hashtag in the search bar, Google+ will show you:
- communities with the hashtag in its name
- collections that use the hashtag
- posts that use the hashtag or use the word in the description
Pinterest used to discourage hashtags but accepts them now. Whereas previously they were only used in descriptions, now hashtags pretty much work the same way they do on other platforms.
Over to You
Now it’s your turn. How do you use hashtags?