Social media is confusing regardless of what generation you’re a part of. If you haven’t dedicated time to learning each network and the communities within them, they can seem like a complex club you didn’t learn the code words for. That’s true for millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers alike – unfamiliarity breeds confusion.
One area that’s confusing to someone just starting out is understanding hashtags. They mean one thing on Twitter, another thing on Instagram, and you can use them on Facebook and LinkedIn but hardly anyone does.
Hashtags don’t have to be difficult, though.
Hashtags on Twitter
Understanding the use of hashtags on Twitter is probably the easiest way to start.
On Twitter, hashtags are essentially ways of sorting similar content. A hashtag on Twitter is little more than a keyword or a Google search term. You can turn anything into a hashtag, but you need to be cautious when you do so.
For example, take Lean manufacturing. The concept of Lean in business is fairly well known, and commonly used in offices all over the world.
But on Twitter?
When you try using the word “Lean” as a hashtag, you get drug references and slang terms, as well as the common use of the word in regular language.
A hashtag operates like a search, and collects tweets with same word or hashtag together in a searchable way. Unlike Google search, though, it’s not nearly as smart. You get anything and everything related to that word.
Hashtags on Instagram
On Instagram, hashtags work in a different way.
On the surface, they’re the same. Hashtags are a way to organize content and find related content.
But on Instagram, it’s all about images.
With that in mind, hashtags work a different way. In fact, they work multiple ways. This is due, in part, because Instagram has an algorithm that it uses to display images which isn’t purely based on when things were posted. Compared to Twitter, posts have a much longer life (although the largest portion of engagements will happen in the first hour or two you post something).
That longer life means hashtags can do more. They can:
- Act as a way collect images about a similar event, item, topic, or person
- Act as a way for community members to find each other’s posts and interact with them
- Act as a way for people and brands to talk about specific topics
- Act as a way for discovery about specific topics
When you use a hashtag on Instagram, it’s part of a longer conversation. On Twitter, it’s a much more ephemeral thing – Tweets can be posted and forgotten in the space of an hour.
On Instagram, you can search for those images for days, weeks, or even months later.
At their heart, hashtags on both Instagram and Twitter are used the same way.
The essence of hashtags for both platforms is the same.
They’re ways of collecting and organizing data.
The main difference is that Instagram is all about storing images; Twitter is about sharing thoughts.
If your hashtags on Instagram aren’t performing as well as what you’re used to with Twitter, it’s probably a combination of not selecting the right hashtags, and poor photo skills.
Twitter just requires a clicky headline, and using a hashtag that’s associated with the right topics. Hashtags can trend and stop trending in a matter of hours, around seemingly arbitrary phrases.
Instagram is slower acting. Hashtags occur more like incidental collections around popular places, topics, and trends. The bigger a hashtag gets, the bigger it continues to get.
Additionally, you can use more hashtags on Instagram than Twitter – up to 30 per post. Compared to Twitter, where best practice is use only one or two, that’s significantly more opportunities to be found by the little communities and niches that ‘live’ on Instagram.
Twitter is where people go for news. Instagram is for images and community.
If you’re struggling to see success with your Instagram efforts despite all the hashtags in the world, there’s probably a hard truth you need to consider:
Your images probably suck.
I’m not saying you’re a terrible person or that you’re incapable of seeing success if you’re bad at taking pictures, but if you really want to succeed with Instagram, your pictures need to be top notch.
There’s a ton of competition on Instagram, and your content has to be as good or better to compete.
All the hashtags in the world won’t make someone want to look at pictures of your logo in different colors, or your 10th selfie of the week with a different filter on it.
If you’re using Instagram for business, you have to ask yourself whether or not you’d want to look at what you’re posting if you were a stranger. If you weren’t directly involved with what you’re posting, would you care?
As with any new social media network, take your time looking around and determining how businesses like yours are operating on the channel. Look for businesses or people in that niche that are successful, and what they do. Look also for those who get minimal engagement on their posts, and think critically about the differences.