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The History and Fundamentals of Social Media Hashtags in Your Content Strategy

History and Fundamentals of Social Media Hashtags
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In the world of social media, there are certain elements everyone thinks of with social media content, including creative images, compelling copy, and engaging hashtags. But, have you ever asked yourself about the fundamentals of your hashtag strategy, or would you consider yourself one of the brave souls flowing with the hashtags that come to mind?

Regardless of the category that best fits your current situation, let’s shed some light on the hashtag dos and don’ts,  along with the different types of hashtags to use in branded content and real stories that can assist you in making this information application in your content strategy and your clients. Before we dive into the fundamentals of hashtags, let’s first begin with the history of the hashtag.


The hash sign or hashtag is visually represented by the symbol ‘#.’ When placing the symbol in front of a word (or series of words) on a social media post,  it will turn that word into a metadata tag. By doing so, you’ve just created a hashtag.

During South by Southwest in 2007, a group of early adopters and developers created this platform called Twitter to help them organize thoughts and ideas for the conference. The first Tweet on the Twitter platform, using the #Hashtag was by Chris Messina, who is now the Head of West Coast Biz Dev.

First Hashtag Tweet

Source: Twitter handle @JoinRepublic

What some considered to be an unorthodox idea turned into the most significant element for social media engagement. It not only shaped interactions on Twitter but became one of the highest adopted features across all social media platforms.

Are you aware of the history of the hashtag? If not, consider this your lucky day! Learn about its history and hashtag fundamentals. #SocialMedia #Hashtags Click To Tweet

Contrary to a consumer’s use of a hashtag, freelance business owners and brands must consider hashtags to be a part of a strategic approach to content marketing. Without a strategy, you could be missing great opportunities, new organic followers, and more. Before jumping into a hashtag frenzy, let’s discuss some of the general dos and don’ts for hashtags usage.

The Dos and Don’ts for your content strategy to be aware of when creating your hashtags:

  • DO NOT use apostrophes. As a writer, we know how important it is to use proper grammar and punctuation in your content but leave it for your content—not your hashtags. By using apostrophes in your hashtag, you break the clickable link (and its meaning). Remember, the purpose of hashtags is not to be grammatically correct but searchable and connected to relatable content on the platform.
  • DO capitalize your words within the hashtag. This has more to do with creating consistency than it does with the actual usage of your hashtags. As a hashtag user, capitalization doesn’t matter. #BeYourBest is still #beyourbest. However, as a brand, #BeYourBest has a more visually appealing look than the hashtag with all lowercase letters. Yes, it takes a little more time when compiling your content and hashtags, but the consistency matters beyond the professional look and feel.
  • DO NOT #hashtag #your #entire #sentence. The previous sentence may appear to be a highly effective, SEO-driven strategy. Still, you must remember every hashtag is a clickable link driving your audience to relatable content and aligning your content with whatever is associated with that hashtag. If you could imagine what type of content is used with that hashtag, #entire, you would most certainly reconsider using it.
  • DO use popular, relevant hashtags. Utilizing popular hashtags in your social media content still involves strategy. Do not use popular hashtags for the sake of profile discovery. That’s a lazy approach to the effectiveness of aligning with relevant experiences, trends, or viral moments. Instead, consider how your brand connects to the topic, and be sure to engage with the hashtag as well! If you’re curious about where to start, begin using monthly relevant hashtags from our social holiday calendar.
  • DO NOT use irrelevant hashtags. As tempting as it can be, using irrelevant hashtags because they’re popular can do more harm than good. Although all posts should connect to a larger story and strategy, treat hashtags as unique to each individual post. For example, if you’re a social strategist, using the hashtag #SocialStrategist on a post highlighting your time out with friends at the ice cream shop would create a disconnect. Instead, align hashtags with that unique experience.
  • DO be mindful of your hashtag quantity. Overpopulating your copy with hashtags is an ineffective strategy and an eyesore to your message. For example, Instagram allows 30 hashtags per post. However, it’s not the platform recommendation or best practice. People are consumers, and consumers are visual. Before they read your message, their eyes will skim the content and look at the overall aesthetics of your post or Tweet. This is more important on platforms like Instagram but still essential on all others.
  • DO your research on your hashtags. Researching your hashtags is imperative to your social media content strategy. This is important because people use hashtags for various reasons, with different types of content and motives. When using hashtags, your posts become aligned with those using the same hashtag as discoverable content.
Hashtags require research and proper attention in your content strategy. Learn the fundaments of hashtags, and become more effective in your hashtag approach. #Strategy #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Storytime: While in Corporate America, I worked with an agency that had a notable, nationally recognized brand, and they had a great campaign they planned to kickoff. In the middle of the excitement, the client decided to create cool hashtags that would be “perfect” for the campaign. However, while reviewing content, one hashtag sparked my attention. I discreetly searched the hashtag and was alarmed by the type of associated content used for the hashtag. They were mortified because they have already begun to use the hashtag. The client had to then go in and remove the hashtag from all of their content.

Moral of the story: Your research is just as important (if not more significant) to the content creation process. Do not skip the step of researching your hashtags, and constantly revisit the discoverable content that aligns with the hashtags you use. Since hashtags are living, breathing content lanes on social media platforms, the content changes daily, so your research and review should be a continual process.

The lack of research can have detrimental effects on your brand if you accidentally connect or interact with a hashtag without due diligence. During the Casey Anthony trials, a notable brand failed to research the reason for a trending hashtag. The poor judgment caused an uproar and required a much-needed apology.

Hashtag Fail

Source: Maippi

Beyond the basic fundamentals of building your hashtag strategy, there are also different types of ways to use your hashtags. For example, bands can use hashtags for content relevancy, brand recognition, and relatable audience attraction.

Hashtags with content relevancy. Hashtags with content relevancy directly connect the core message you desire your audience to resonate with, receive and engage. They are not required (or encouraged) to be a part of your post copy, but it reinforces profile discovery for people who may not follow you to find you through the hashtags. Here is an excellent example of content relevancy for your hashtags by our ClearVoice Instagram account.

Hashtags with content relevancy

Branded Hashtags. Branded hashtags are those that are specifically created for your brand. For example, if your brand is called Dancing Candles, then your brand hashtag would be #DancingCandles. Although brand names are most common to become hashtags, this also applies to long and short-term campaigns unique for your brand. When creating these hashtags, be sure to research them before committing them to your campaigns. This would save a lot of headaches and confusion later.

Additionally, remember brand hashtags will most likely be used by the brand only for a considerable amount of time. Your campaign hashtag will require consistent repetition before consumers begin to use them on their own content. This point is possibly one of the most important things to consider with these types of hashtags. It is for brand recognition and campaign support, not consumer usage. If they begin to use the hashtag, that’s fantastic! It means that your repetition is working, but consumer usage should not be your primary end goal. Great branded campaigns include Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke and the vegan nail polish brand Zoya’s #EveryDayZoya.


#Shareacoke 2

Source: #ShareACoke on Instagram

#EveryDayZoya 1

Source: #EveryDayZoya on Instagram

Relatable Audience Attraction. Relatable audience attraction hashtags are your general content lanes. Although still relevant to your post content, these hashtags are generic in nature. Interestingly enough, brands miss the mark with general hashtags. Instead of using hashtags that people like you would use, consider the mindset of your audience.

A previous real estate client shared great content for sellers and buyers. The audience most engaged were mostly other real estate agents instead of those in the market looking for homes. When the general hashtags used by the client shifted from those of a real estate agent to those used by a home buyer or seller, the client’s audience engagement shifted. Why is this? Because hashtags are living, real-time content lanes that are intended to connect like-minded users through organic discovery.

Consider using hashtags that your audience uses in their content, not those that resonate with your industry or what you do. For example, if you are a writer speaking to an audience of aspiring writers, be sure to use the #aspiringwriter hashtag. By doing so, you will be able to use hashtags that your audience is currently using within their own content. No need to guess! Simply look at content created by your ideal prospective audience on the platform. In reality, the hashtags are not for you. Hashtag usage is for others to find your content, so the relatability to your audience matters.

When building your content strategy, don't forget to consider your hashtags! Here are tips to help you choose effective hashtags for your content. #SocialMedia #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

What began as a way to organize thoughts and ideas for developers at a conference is now one of the most effective ways to connect, engage and relate with others on social media. Its evolution reflects the pace of growth and adaption of social media to the market’s needs and consumers.

Be sure to follow our Social Media Hashtag series, including hashtag history and best practices on the most notable platforms and more.

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About the author

Altimese Nichole

Altimese Nichole is a best-selling author, speaker, brand strategist, publicist, and diversity champion with a heart to help her clients win as the Founder of The Ezer Agency. She attained her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications, Broadcast Journalism from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed her Master of Management degree from the University of Phoenix. She has over 12 years of experience with public relations and marketing with companies small and large, including CNN, Cartoon Network, Black Bride Magazine, Church's Chicken, Sutter Home Wines, La Femme International Film Festival, Facebook, and more.