Hashtags are nothing new anymore. But using them can still be awkward or even confusing for many, especially if you’re just getting your feet wet in a new network. Even if you’ve already got the basics down, are they actually growing your following?
There’s a big difference between the occasional hashtag #justbecause and one that can boltser your #pub platform.
Let’s take a look at how to use hashtags to gain followers, build relationships and increase general awareness of your brand.
The term “hashtag” refers to key words designated with the hash symbol (#) in a social media context. The feature originated on Twitter, but became such a popular tool that several other networks have adapted to use them, too, including Facebook, Instagram, and even YouTube, among others.
That’s all well and good, but what’s the point? Hashtags serve as links to a live feed of posts from across the entire social network that used that same hashtag.
If you haven’t used them before, this can sound like a strange thing. But in practice, they let users engage with a community that goes well beyond their own following.
Hashtags are frequently used to:
- Discuss a hot topic such as the presidential race (#election2016)
- Share about an event such as a conference (#thrillerfest15)
- Connect to a niche community that shares common interests, challenges and goals, such as authors (#amwriting)
- Raise awareness for a cause that can extend across the country or even the world (like #blacklivesmatter)
Hashtags for authors
There are tons of hashtags for authors out there. Whether you’re reaching out to other authors, agents, the publishing industry, self-pubbers, or even readers, there’s a hash for that.
Some of the most popular author hashtags that I’ve come across include:
But these are only a few among hundreds. For more, check out this list of over 200 writer hashtags.
And remember, like everything online, hashtags are constantly evolving. In my opinion, the best way to discover new ones is to pay attention to the hashtags you see in your stream from other accounts, and make note of how they’re used in context. You’ll have the best luck at this if you follow several industry thought leaders and publications, and keep your favorite author accounts in a list together.
Putting Hashtags to Work
Think of hashtags as a way to join a larger conversation. Don’t use them in every post just for exposure, or flood posts with several at once. As a rule of thumb, implement them when you’re already posting about a relevant topic, and stick to one hashtag per post, maybe two on occasion when especially relevant.
As with anything in social media outreach, quality is more important than quantity. If you’re new to hashtags, I’d recommend picking one to three to start following regularly. As your understanding of their use develops, start using those hashtags. Then, try checking out a few more. Curiosity is encouraged!
Don’t feel you need to limit yourself to writing or reading topics with hashtags. Exploring hashtags related to hobbies, passions, or events you enjoy can be great for your platform, too. And feel free to simply follow a hashtag’s feed and respond to others. It’s about building connections, not blasting your posts into the abyss.
For example (I’ve mentioned this one before, but what can I say, I loved it) author Rainbow Rowell made some hilarious tweets during last year’s Peter Pan Live! on NBC (#peterpanlive). It had nothing to do with her novels, but she frequently uses her social media to share her interest in pop culture, and her posts got a lot of engagement.
One note of caution—don’t assume you know the meaning of a new hashtag; always look at the feed first. For example, the hashtag #NotGuilty has been used to declare court rulings, but also by Entemanns to celebrate treating yourself with guilty pleasure snacks. #Oops.
By no means should hashtags be your primary growth strategy on Twitter or any other social network. A strong platform is always built on consistency and offering value. But hashtags can be a significant supporting tactic, and should not be ignored.
Like so many new things, hashtags can seem odd until you’ve tried them out a little. So here’s your challenge: Pick a new hashtag to try out in an area that is of great interest to you. Follow the post feed, start using the tag in relevant posts, and respond to others using it, too.
Keep it up consistently for a few weeks, and then check out your analytics. Are your metrics improving? I bet they are. Happy posting!
By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, an award-winning sci-fi and fantasy author whose debut novel Mud was named 2016 Book of the Year by the Florida Writers Association.