Industry Jargon Explained: What Are Hashtags?

On March 21, 2006, the launch of Twitter substantially changed a number of common communication and marketing tactics. Over the ensuing years, the ever-evolving social media landscape has continued to alter the shape of digital marketing—and the internet as a whole. However, in a sea of change, one component has remained relatively consistent—and in some ways, iconic.

Once known as a pound or number sign, the launch of twitter turned the “#” symbol into the hashtag—and a social media communication sensation. Renamed and reinvented, this little scratch mark now can be found preceding trending terms or phrases across a wide range of social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and, of course, Twitter. While excessive use of hashtags can be annoying—more on that later—this tool plays an important role in #SocialMediaMarketing; one that your medical or dental practice can use to great effect.

What’s the Point of Hashtags?

Hashtags are used to make content more accessible to people with shared interests, acting as a sort of cataloging system for posts. By searching for #[word] or #[phrase] on a social media site, you can review posts that contain that term or group of terms. For instance, if you search for #DentistryLife on Facebook, you’ll see a gallery of images and accompanying content posted by users related to this topic. On some sites, users can also “follow” specific hashtags, meaning that selected content posted using that hashtag may appear in their activity feed—even if they do not follow the account that posted it directly.

Ideally, hashtags should tell people—and the social media website’s algorithm—what the post is about. As an example, if you are showcasing a before-and-after case for a patient treated with porcelain veneers, you might add hashtags such as #PorcelainVeneers or #SmileDesign. You could also include tags relating more to your business, such as #[Location][Profession] (In practice, this would look something like #NYCDentist or #SanDiegoPlasticSurgeon).

Adding descriptive tags like these serves the additional purpose of helping the system catalog your post and, ideally, relay it to potentially interested parties. Most social media platforms have some method of showing users content that relates to their perceived interests, and hashtags play a major role in telling the algorithm what your post is about. By keeping your hashtags relevant to your content and location, you have the highest probability of seeing your content included on a Facebook or TikTok user’s “For You” page or as a “Suggested” post in an Instagram or Twitter user’s feed.

Can I Use Hashtags For Branding Purposes?

Yes, you can (and should!) use hashtags to develop your brand. Indeed, hashtags can provide another effective way of using social media to increase and measure brand awareness. The first step in this process is to develop what is sometimes called a “business hashtag” or a “branded hashtag” that is unique to you and/or your practice. This can often be as simple as using your own name or your practice name in hashtag format (#DrYourName or #YourNameMD). By using a consistent business hashtag, you can more easily track your content’s reach while also spreading brand awareness.

In many cases, individual users or businesses also create unique hashtags relating to specific campaigns or events. For instance, if your practice is hosting a food drive, product giveaway, or holiday costume contest, you might create a unique hashtag (for example, If Rosemont Media was hosting a halloween costume contest, we might create the hashtag #RMHalloween2023). This unique hashtag allows interested users—and you!—to track all activity relating to your event. You can also encourage your followers to use the hashtag, which can help expand your content’s reach while attracting traffic to your page.

How Do I Add a Hashtag to My Post?

When adding a hashtag to your post, simply start by entering the # symbol before a word or phrase. Spaces between words and punctuation are not allowed, but you can use upper and lowercase letters (case doesn’t affect search results), underscores (_), and numbers. Also, hashtags and @ symbols have different purposes. The @ sign is used to contact (or “tag”) another account directly.

How Many Hashtags Should I Add to My Posts?

Deciding how many hashtags to add to your posts can be tricky, and there really is no single “right answer.” Each social media platform has slightly different policies in terms of how many hashtags are technically allowed. For example, Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, while platforms like Twitter and TikTok rely on their stricter character limits to meter how many tags can be added.

That said, most social media experts—and the platforms themselves—advise against aiming for the maximum number of tags per post, which can come across as annoying and spammy to users. Furthermore, while it can be tempting to add trending or popular hashtags with little to no relevance to your posts in hopes of increasing visibility, this black hat social media strategy typically produces the exact opposite effect: rather than reaching a large number of engaged viewers, your content is instead likely to get lost amidst a sea of unrelated posts. Plus, both users and social media platforms have made their dislike of spam known, and many sites have begun penalizing accounts guilty of “hashtag stuffing.”

The trick, then, is to keep your hashtags minimal in number and highly relevant to your target audience. Based on advice from the Instagram @Creators account—Instagram’s guide to using Instagram, essentially—the platform recommends limiting yourself to 3-5 hashtags per post. Social media marketers from around the web have weighed in, and the consensus seems to be that 3-5 hashtags is a reasonable guideline, but not necessarily a set rule. This is where a bit of trial and error—and some campaign performance analysis from the social media gurus at Rosemont Media—can be beneficial.

Should My Practice Use Hashtags?/

The bottom line is yes, your practice should definitely use hashtags on social media. In addition to giving your posts a greater chance of being seen in search results, effective hashtag usage can help amplify your content’s reach and promote brand awareness. It can also be a fun way to engage with your patients and local community (many cities, counties, and neighborhoods even have their own sets of hashtags featuring local businesses and events). However, it is important to keep in mind that relevance is always key.

Once you get a handle on hashtagging, it’s a pretty simple method of putting your content in front of the right audience. However, best practices can change quickly, and engaging in your own social media marketing can be a time-consuming process. At Rosemont Media, our savvy socialites can do the hard work while you enjoy the fruits of their labor—including a reputation boost. Talk to us today to learn more about how hashtags can help your practice’s social strategy succeed.

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on August 16, 2016.

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