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To hashtag or not to hashtag, that is the question

By Prof. Enid Bozic

If you’re a social media manager or strategist, brand manager, or simply want to build your personal brand on social media, then you’re probably wondering whether hashtags are still useful in 2024. The answer is still YES! However, the way you use hashtags is going to be very different than in years past. Up until about two years ago, you could still use hashtags for launching cause-based campaigns like the #metoo movement, #icebucketchallenge for ALS, or Disney’s #shareyourears fundraiser in partnership with the Make A Wish Foundation. Hashtags were also added to Instagram posts that worked like free advertising when end users discovered brands by simply typing in relevant hashtags tied to the brand. It worked so well, that there was an ongoing debate for several years on whether to use 30 hashtags in a single post or limit it to 15. The algorithms set on Instagram a few years ago determined that too many hashtags on a single post or using the same hashtags from post to post were considered “spammy”. As a result, these posts weren’t seen by end users or the brand’s targeted demographic as easily as they had before this algorithm change.

Ever since technology developer and self-described “hash godfather” Chris Messina first tweeted using the pound sign “as an indicator to group tweets around a common name” on August 23, 2007, hashtags seem to have worked their way to becoming a staple in the social media space. However, in the past year and especially into 2024, that is about to change. Enter the use of keywords in social media captions. These keywords work much like SEO keywords on traditional search engine sites like Google, Firefox, Safari, and Bing where an end user can do a “search query” to find information on the Internet. The reason why keywords in captions should become an important part of your social media strategy is primarily due to the rising popularity of social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube among Gen Z and Alpha users as their go to search engines. This demographic readily engages in search queries on these social media platforms, which is essentially turning them into search engines equivalent to Google and the other traditional search engine sites. Keywords in captions have long played a part in the Pinterest space, turning this social media platform into a search engine site primarily used by millennials. Instagram is also jumping on board with keywords, turning its platform into a search engine site for Gen Z and millennials.

So where does that leave hashtags?

Some will tell you that hashtags are dead and only those who continue to use them are like the millennials, xennials or Gen Xers who still wear skinny jeans. Before you decide to move away from hashtags altogether (and since the jury is still out on its future), you can still use hashtags as a way to categorize your content in the social media space. Both Instagram and TikTok recommend using 3-5 hashtags, X recommends 2, Pinterest recommends 2-8, and Facebook recommends 2-3. Also, keep in mind that there are five types of hashtags for categorizing: location, branded (i.e., campaigns, events, employers, etc.), industry, community, and descriptive. Stick with these categories and be as creative as you like.

If you have a question about social media strategy or starting out as a social media manager or freelancer, send me a DM. Also, be sure to check back every Tuesday for more social media strategy tips and career advice.