The humble, unassuming hashtag took a turn for the worst when social media came along, a transformation resembling that of one Kylie Jenner circa 2007 to 2016. Now, no offence directed towards Miss Jenner, but some things were better left alone and in their original state. Initially intended for the purpose of categorising (much like its proposed usage now) in information technology, the hashtag (or octothorp and pound sign) came into being in the early days of the Internet as a means of channelling communication but was not widely used until the emergence of Twitter in the late 2000’s. Nowadays, hashtags are used on Twitter to channel trending topics such as #FeesMustFall and, for the most part, this is befitting of their destined objective.

But Instagram, on the other hand, is one hot mess as far as trigger-happy hashtag fiends go. These days, I find it slightly aggravating when I’m confronted by Instagram posts littered with even the most remotely relative hashtags and I fervently discourage social media users against ‘hashtag confetti’ – my term for excessive hashtag usage. Yes, I get it, Wikihow invites you to go crazy in an attempt to gain more likes and followers but is it too much to ask you to be more conservative with the “#girl #yay #happy #fun #sun #beach #summer #sea #sand #friends”? We don’t need you to describe your surroundings; there is a photo attached to your hashtag essay after all. I am, by no means, exempt from this blame: I remember my darker days when I was averaging 17 hashtags per post, tagging “dachshund” in every possible language. This was before I was paid to be social media savvy; I now know where I went wrong.

I know I sound very “bah humbug” about this and I know social media is all shits and giggles for the average person, but speaking as a social media manager, we should know better. There is nothing worse than stumbling upon a brand’s Instagram feed and hashtags fly at you from every direction like mosquitos during monsoon season. Hashtags are the poor man’s social media advertising and, ultimately, it’s poor practice. In the long run, social media advertising is going to generate more leads for your brand than #happy ever could. Hashtag etiquette is simple and, believe me, effective if done right. There seems to be a stigma attached to using more than three or four hashtags and yes, I agree with it. It looks messy, lazy and (I hate to say it but I am compelled to) unprofessional.

Trust me, I would never claim to be a social media virtuoso but I’ve learned a thing or two when it comes to engagement – the holy grail of the digital marketing realm. When it comes to hashtags, save your fingers and thumbs the hard graft and take the minimalist approach: choose a couple of RELEVANT tags, investigate which of your stock are most popular and leave it at that. Also, I know it’s very tempting to latch on to a trending tag (i.e. #FeesMustFall); but honey, you are better than that. Back away slowly. It’s cute but it’s fleeting. And who wants to be cute in this game anyhow?

Hashtag usage is like lip liner: it either works really well for you or it goes horribly wrong. Don’t be a Kylie.

Written by Lorian – Social Media Manager