When we first started using social media to tell the rescue world about what we're building here at Sparkie, we definitely made some (OK, maybe many!) mistakes along the way. One of those mistakes was not using hashtags as well as we could have.
In our quest to save animal rescuers like you time and frustration - both through software we're building and content like this - we figured a guide on hashtags would be worth the read. So here it is: full of explanations and best practices around when, where, and how to use hashtags across the most popular social platforms out there. Without further ado, #let's #get #going!
If you’ve ever been on social media then you've definitely seen words preceded by a “number sign,” or as now is more commonly known, a “hashtag,” #. Hashtags are clickable (like a weblink), meaning that when you click on one you will be shown even more posts that feature that same hashtag.
While hashtags can seem a bit overwhelming and at times confusing, there are basically just 2 primary functions for using hashtags, and both of them involve content discovery:
1. People use hashtags to put their content in the context of current events or trending news. By adding a hashtag to a tweet, that tweet can now be discovered more easily by someone who just happens to be browsing that particular hashtag, like #PitbullPride
2. Users who are looking for more information about a specific topic or community can follow hashtags to see posts related to that hashtag. For example, clicking on #adoptdontshop on Instagram will bring up posts about adoptable pets or showcase pictures from people who have rescue animals and are using #adoptdontshop to spread the word about how awesome rescue pets are
Here's an example to bring this a bit more to life:
Last month when we shared out a post about an event hosted by our friends over at Badass Brooklyn we appended the #adoptdontshop hashtag to it so that people who are interested in this hashtag (and likely animal rescue in general) would see the event and perhaps buy a ticket.
In other words, we used the hashtag as a way of reaching a more targeted audience than we would have if we had simply put something like #party or #gala (which are both a little too generic) on the post.
You'll see below that we also used the #BK hashtag (short for Brooklyn) to help reach local people who may not necessarily be into animal rescue but would be interested in attending a fun event close to where they live:
To hashtag or not to hashtag...
There's 3 reasons we think rescuers in particular should embrace the hashtag:
- There's pretty much no time required to type them up and very little downside to leveraging them in your posts. Some social media experts will probably disagree with this assessment, but at least for rescue organizations, there's really no downside to using a hashtag (of course you want to be careful to not use an offensive one, but that goes with any content posted on social media). At worst a hashtag will just sit there on your post, but at best it can bring you new followers and perhaps even help a post go viral!
- It will help you find people who share your interests. There's not a ton of time in rescue to meet other rescuers and just generally stay connected, so hashtags are a great way to facilitate connections. Because hashtags are pretty much just topic names, when you use them on a post, your content will start to appear next to posts that are likely similar to yours (and vice versa, if you search posts with the hashtag you want to use, you will likely find rescues doing similarly cool things). So these little symbols can actually help you discover new people, stories and even cool ideas that you can take advantage of for your rescue - things that might not be as easily found with a simple Google search
- It brings your posts - and adoptable animals - to life. Hashtags are so common nowadays that it looks kind of funny to not use them on your posts. Hashtags make your posts look more legitimate relative to all the other millions of popular posts out there and, since they (usually) come at the end of a post, provide a nice way to round out your content
How to use hashtags on your rescue-specific posts
We've seen lots of rescues get really creative in using hashtags to help animals gets adopted and spread their message of love and rescue. Here's some of the most effective techniques we've encountered. We encourage you to consider using some (or all) of these moving forward:
- Create a unique hashtag for every animal that comes into your rescue, and use that same exact hashtag across all your social platforms, every time you publish a post on that animal. This way, potential fosters and adopters can track that hashtag over time for updates on their future furry friend!
Here's an example from Rebound Hounds out of Queens, NY, who creates unique hashtags for every animal they rescue. When they pulled Luther, an older beagle from animal control, they created a hashtag specific to him: #LutherOnTheRebound. They'll keep using this hashtag until Luther gets adopted, at which point his new family can keep using it when they want to post updates on him across social platforms:
- Leverage trending hashtags. A quick way to get some new followers is to leverage trending hashtags, which are basically just hashtags that become popular because they relate to something going on in the news or popular media at the time (like the recent PokemonGo hype). There are several websites you can use to see which hashtags are trending (Top-Hashtags and Hashtags.org are worth a look).
Once you you find a hashtag (or two) that seems relevant to your post, it's worth trying to use it to help expand the post's reach (i.e. the number of people who will see the post.)
As an example, we love how the animal shelter of Muncie, Indiana, got in on the #PokemonGo craze to help get dogs walked:
- Establish a brand hashtag helps set your content apart from others. In its simplest form, your brand hashtag can just be the name of your rescue (#DogRescue), your rescue tagline (like #RescueForThePeople) or something else you want to use. But be sure it's clear that the hashtag relates specifically to your rescue (so don't use something too generic that other organizations could use, like #LoveMyFurbaby).
At Sparkie, we decided to use #SparkieSays as our standard hashtag since it was ownable (no one else was using it) and we can use it in a bunch of different ways, like to either just end a post or start one (e.g. #SparkieSays Read this post!)
- Finally, at a minimum across all your social platforms, use at least 1-3 hashtags. While some platforms can support more (like Instagram) it's best to try to use at least a couple relevant hashtags for each post.
If you're not sure where to start, consider following this framework for every post:
- One hashtag that is either the name of your rescue or your brand statement, like #DogCatRescue
- One generic but popular animal rescue hashtag, like #AdoptDontShop or #RescueCat, to help tie you to general animal rescue themes in the social media universe
- One post-specific hashtag. So lets say you are posting about a pitbull up for adoption, you might use #pitbull or #pittie to end that post
Before you #start, a few comments on the best #practices for each social media platform
At a very high-level, "hashtagging" (yes it's a verb now!) is similar across most social media platforms; but there are nuances unique to each. Since most rescue groups are on Facebook, Instagram, and to some extent Twitter, we've put together a couple bullets on how to use hashtags on each platform
- Having 5, 9, or 11 hashtags on your post will give you the highest level of engagement
- Hashtags are NOT clickable in your profile, so it’s better not to have any in there; save them for posts
- If you want to use several hashtags without cluttering up your actual content, consider posting them in a comment right before your caption, or using a spacer, like several dashes or slashes. You can’t actually skip lines when you’re typing your your caption on Instagram, so it’s a good idea to write out your caption in your notes, and then just copy and paste it into Instagram so the line spacing holds
There actually aren't too many rules for hashtags with Facebook, though less is generally more on this platform as hashtags haven't really seemed to have taken off like they have on IG or Twitter. So stick with 1-2 at most.
Here's how Get Leashed Mag used the popular #AdoptDontShop hashtag in one of their recent FB posts:
The platform that kind of started it all, Twitter doesn't really give you much room for more than 2-3 hashtags (given the character count limits) so you need to get creative. Here's how:
- Don’t use long strings of words as a hashtag. If you need to use something that’s more than one word long, like #AdoptDontShop, be sure to capitalize the first letter of each word so people are able to read it more easily.
- Keep it to no more than 2 hashtags per post (this is where we made a ton of mistakes early on). Research shows that having more than 2 hashtags will drop your engagement rate by an average of 17%!!!
- Given the character restrictions on Twitter, try to use hashtags like words throughout the post versus just at the end. For example saying something like, "Eager to #adopt a #rescue pet? Then come out to our adoption event on Friday!" versus saying, "Come out to our adoption event on Friday! #adopt #rescue"
Phew...we just covered a lot! But keep this in mind: hashtags might seem complex but they really aren't. Don't overthink the hashtags you use and remember that just a couple can go a long way, so give them a try!
And, as always, if you have any questions about this or any other #social #media topics, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll walk you through it all!