Appropriate or Not? A Quick-Reference Resource on Hashtag Use

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Hashtags can be an incredible resource in the social media marketing world. Created as a tool to easily organize posts and information on Twitter, the “hashtag” is now a central part of Facebook, Instagram, and most other social media platforms. Users can mark their content with hashtags to categorize the content, search for, or even browse various hashtags to find specific types of content.

But too many brands have taken this tool for efficiency and have exploited it to a level where it does more harm than good. In essence, they use hashtags inappropriately, and wind up either looking foolish in front of their followers.

So how can you tell if your hashtag use is appropriate? This quick-reference guide will tell you.

Why Hashtags Can Be Valuable

After reading my introduction, you might be tempted to write off hashtags entirely as a way to play it safe. After all, you can’t use hashtags inappropriately if you simply never use hashtags to begin with, right? But hashtags can be a powerful tool to boost the reach and influence of your social media content.

The basic premise is this; people search for hashtags, or follow hashtags more frequently than they search for other types of posts. Therefore, if you use popular hashtags in the right way, you’ll put your social media content in front of public eyes you might otherwise be unable to connect with. The key is to use them “in the right way.”

Now, let’s assume you’ve found a hashtag that you want to use. Let’s ask a series of questions to see if it’s appropriate to use in your post.

Do You Know What the Hashtag Means?

First, do you know what the hashtag actually means? Don’t make any assumptions here; make certain you’re absolutely clear on what the hashtag is, what it means to its intended audience, and any subtextual clues that you may be missing. Looks can be deceiving, so if you’re even slightly in doubt, don’t hesitate to do some research before you make a commitment. There’s no better example of how this can blow up in your face than DiGiorno’s tweet, which used the hashtag #WhyIStayed to promote its pizza. On the surface, the hashtag looks innocent enough, but again, you can’t make that assumption. The hashtag was actually being used by survivors of domestic abuse to raise awareness and support for other victims — making DiGiorno’s marketing stunt appear insensitive and offensive, not to mention foolish.

Is It Relevant to Your Brand?

Next, ask yourself if this is a hashtag relevant to your brand. Is this the type of hashtag that someone in your target demographics might use? Is this something that you can tie into your brand somehow? For example, let’s say there’s a hashtag relating to 1990s nostalgia, and your brand is a sales firm that caters to experienced, middle-aged business owners. Capitalizing on this hashtag will probably get you in front of more millennials and younger adults, rendering it useless in generating new business (not to mention, you’ll alienate your key clientele).

Is It Relevant to Your Post?

Once you’ve established that you know what your hashtag is and that it’s relevant for your brand, your next step is to make sure it’s relevant for your actual post. For example, the hashtag #tattoo is one of the most popular on Instagram. This is meant to be used for, you guessed it, tagging pictures of tattoos. If you use it to tag an image of your company’s latest piece of equipment, you’re going to confuse a lot of people. Once you’re experienced enough, you can learn to use hashtags ironically, but for the most part, the literal route is a safe one.

How Many Hashtags Are You Using?

After running the first three checks, you should be in the clear to use whatever hashtag you were eyeing to begin with. And, theoretically, you can use multiple hashtags in every post you commit — but you’ll want to be careful here too. There’s no technical upper limit to the number of hashtags you can include in a post (save for character count limits), but stuffing your post full of hashtags unnecessarily is a sure way to turn off your followers.

How Many Hashtags Do You Usually Use?

You’ll also need to consider how your brand “typically” uses hashtags. For example, let’s say you’ve found two or three hashtags that genuinely fit your content, and you commit them to a single post. This is fantastic. But what happens if you use those same hashtags again in your next post? And the next one? And the one after that? Reusing the same hashtag strategies over and over can also turn your audience off, so be sure to switch things up and keep it fresh.

The Most Important Question: Are You Using Hashtags for Hashtags’ Sake?

If the above guide is too much to walk through and you just want to make a post already, there’s one big question you need to answer. Are you using hashtags just for the sake of using hashtags? That is, are you without clear direction or strategy, and only capitalizing on the idea of hashtags because you think it will support your brand? If so, you need to take a step back. Hashtags can be valuable, but only if you use them appropriately and strategically.



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Jayson DeMers

CEO of EmailAnalytics (, a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!