Hashtag 101: To Hashtag or Not to Hashtag
As of this writing, the use of hashtags is heavily debated, with a strong divide on whether or not they are relevant. The platforms don’t provide clear direction or insight on this matter, so all answers to the hashtag debate are purely anecdotal. In my own expert opinion, hashtags are useful for sorting your content, but they are not required for virality.
Hashtags were once heavily used on social media sites and applications as a way to categorize the content type into specific topics to be easily searched. In the early phases of Instagram and Youtube, creators could help the algorithm sort and share content with the aid of hashtags. In the past few years, the importance of hashtags has dissipated as the algorithm, and AI has become smarter and better able to sort content on their own without the help of a hashtag.
The major social media platforms have adopted AI algorithms that use language analysis to sort and scrub your video to push it out to relevant users and no longer need the use of hashtags to sort content. TikTok has the most advanced AI algorithm on the market, which is, in part, why the app grew so popular so quickly. The rise of Tiktok and its advanced algorithm forced the other major players to adapt, which has changed the utility of hashtags and has made the topic somewhat controversial. The major platforms do not share intel on hashtags, so all relevant information is more or less speculative. Many creators suggest that hashtags are not needed because platform AI is so advanced that it doesn’t require the help of hashtags to sort the content.
When Are Hashtags Useful?
In my opinion, hashtags are relevant for social media SEO value. If used strategically, hashtags can garner premier placement on top search pages within the social apps. This key usefulness of hashtags is what most creators are missing when they are speaking down to hashtags, but this utility is not helpful for their business model. Before I explain how hashtags can be relevant for your business, it is worth explaining the cultural shift that is occurring online. As of 2022, more and more users are turning to Instagram and Tiktok as their primary search engine. Instagram and Tiktok have an ‘Explore’ feature that users use for search queries. This trend started with Gen Z’s and is now being adopted by the masses, and is a good trend for you to get ahead of so that you can generate SEO value on social media platforms. The reason for this shift is that ‘text-based answers don’t always work. For example, I recently used Instagram to find a new hair stylist as my last stylist moved cities. When I search for a hairdresser, I am judging their ability by their past work. I am very particular about the kind of colour I wear my hair, and found the terms I was using, like “Good Balayage Stylist,” and “Natural balayage Toronto,” wasn’t resulting in a productive search effort. When I used these terms, I was faced with a list of businesses; I had to go through each website, hope they have a gallery, and click through to their Instagram page to see more. The results that Google pulled up weren’t the best stylists; they were big brands that had the money to invest in SEO and Adwords. So I took my search to Instagram, and in about 10 minutes, I found my new stylist.
Because ‘good’ hair is purely visual, the search queries on Google didn’t help.
The point of my example is that even as a millennial, you can see my online behaviour shifting and moving to a more visual experience. More and more users are using Tiktok and Instagram for this exact reason, and this includes users looking for your services.
One of the most interesting cultural phenomena of 2022 is that more people are using Tiktok for searches daily instead of Google.
Hashtags are useful, but they are not required for virality. However, what most creators miss is speaking on hashtags for professional services or business owners. Hashtags are great for business owners who offer highly researched services.
How to Leverage Hashtags for Searches
The best way to leverage hashtags is by using specific hashtags that speak to:
- The content your posting
- The specific geographic area you service with your offering; or,
- Leveraging relevant or trending hashtags
Depending on your piece of content, you want to use a maximum of 5 hashtags, and you want to ensure every hashtag you use is specific to your service and relates to a question someone would type in on the platform.
You want the hashtags to be specific to the individual post;
For example, if your post is about your personal injury services, do not hashtag #TorontoCriminalLaw if you also offer services for this area at your firm. The post has to have hashtags that are only relevant to the specific post.
CASE STUDY EXAMPLE– Hashtags Strategically in Action
We work with a personal injury law firm that focuses on injuries sustained from Medical spas. There are specific facials that involve needles and blood that have resulted in some unfortunate cases that this firm prefers to focus on. These same facials are extremely trendy and have increased in popularity because of celebrities posting about them online. In order to generate business for this firm, we created informative content surrounding the risks of the facial, things to ask a clinic about their cleanliness and safety protocols, etc. For all relevant posts, we use specific hashtags, including the facial’s name. By using trending hashtags, users were able to find and consume our content. Because the content was relevant, engaging and on-brand for the hashtag, the firm got primary placement on the explore page which has resulted in tons of business online.
This example shows that hashtags are relevant for specific search queries and can generate business. However, the content must be:
- On topic
- Specific to the hashtag
Spend some time on the major platforms using hashtag questions to get a feel of how other users may use this feature before applying them to your content. Before starting, do some research to see where the hashtag conversation is at present so that you are maximizing the use of hashtags if they are still relevant.
Hashtags Are Not Treated Equally (on All Platforms)
As of this writing, hashtags are most important on Instagram and Tiktok because of the shift in search behaviour outlined above. Other major platforms aren’t as focused on owning searchability (yet), and you get little to no value using them elsewhere.
Our Approach to Hashtags Shared
At Third Eye Insights, we only use hashtags like #marketingforlawyers #professionalbrands #professionalbranding in addition to a post-specific hashtag if applicable (i.e. #Morpheus8). These hashtags represent the kind of search query someone would use on Tiktok or Instagram if they prefer to use these platforms for search. Note, the way you search on Tiktok or Instagram is different; you only use a query or keyword (or hashtag), not a full sentence like you would on Google.
In the professional services space, Third Eye Insights has little to no competition at the visual level for creating professional brands. But on Google, we have tons of competitors. This is a huge threat to us because big companies that can afford to dominate keywords can come up before us on a Google search. These other companies have nice-looking websites and don’t often share examples of their work online. On the Google front, these competitors can win by duping.
However, by adopting a proper hashtag approach on Instagram and TikTok, we dominate the competition. Branding and marketing are highly visual. If someone was looking on Instagram and Tiktok for our services, we would win every time (and we do) because our visual product is our greatest differentiator.
When it comes to getting an answer online, most users will want to see a visual representation, Especially for high-risk/high-context questions.
Using strategic wording and hashtags to generate a visual answer also works great for law. People are increasingly using social media platforms to answer their service-based questions. By using the approaches laid out in this book, you will have the best visual content on the market as a lawyer, which will position your services as the best option. Creating strong content wins at the human level because it illustrates instantly that you are a credible expert.