Recently one of our clients asked about the difference between mentions (@) and hashtags (#) on Twitter. I left the conversation thinking about how they are used and misused, and how they can be added to tweets more effectively. I also realized that there may be other clients and subscribers of ours that would like to know more about this topic.
It seems as if mentions and hashtags are often confused by novice Twitter users. Admittedly, when I first started using Twitter I didn't fully grasp how important they both are. It’s something I learned over time, using the platform myself and watching the interactions of others.
First, it’s helpful to examine how Twitter is used. The platform is typically used to share important announcements, interesting content, and brand developments. You’ll often find bits of conversations between accounts. The use of mentions and hashtags helps users find others who have similar interests.
Mentions are used to call attention to or draw the attention of another Twitter account. They are searchable so a user can search for all the mentions of a particular account. When you mention an account, they will receive a notification. Often if you mention an account in a way that is beneficial to them, they will mention you back or retweet your post.
Using mentions wisely can lead to added exposure for your brand. You want to draw the attention of the owners and followers of a particular account, but it has to be in the right context. For example, an effective way to mention a brand would be if you’re sharing your blog post that discusses the use of social media management tools. If the article itself mentions Buffer, then adding @Buffer to your tweet would be appropriate. It’s valuable to their brand (they’d love to know that they were written about) and helpful to their followers.
The use of mentions can appear gratuitous and self-serving when they are misused. Don’t tag accounts that are not relevant to the subject of your post. For example, if you sell shoes on eBay and you’re tweeting about your products, you wouldn’t add @Zappos.
Hashtags are for grouping conversations and categorizing content about a topic. Like mentions, hashtags are searchable, so you can view what other people are tweeting about, relative to a particular subject. They reflect what people are talking about and you’ll notice that there are frequently "trending hashtags" when there is an event or tweet that goes viral.
There are two ways to discover trending topics and hashtags that are relevant to your account depending on whether you are on mobile or desktop.
If your tweet is relevant to a particular current event or trending topic, adding a hashtag is a way to join in the conversation. Hashtags allow you connect with others who have a common interest. Social media is about developing relationships and hashtags play an important part in finding your tribe on Twitter and other social networks like Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook.
I like to think of hashtags as adding value by being helpful to Twitter users who are searching for information about a particular topic. The benefit of the hashtag is that a user can filter their search for the same hashtag simply by tapping or clicking on the #word as it appears within a tweet.
Hashtags can be used within the main body of a tweet or in a string of hashtags at the end. Keep in mind Twitter's character limit and compose tweets that are concise and engaging.
Hashtags are also valuable for branding. Come up with your own hashtag phrase and use it in your social campaigns. It will set you apart from other brands and you will start to be associated with that phrase. It lets your followers know that if they search for that hashtag they will find other useful information about your products or services. Not only that, if your hashtag strategy connects with your users they will start to use it in their own social media, resulting in user-generated content. That’s when you know you’ve hit the social media jackpot!
If you want the maximum exposure for your post, the optimum number of hashtags is 2. According to research on Twitter hashtags, engagement drops by 17% on posts with 3 or more hashtags. (Sendible) You’ll want every click, reply and retweet you can get so this is important to note.
Be sure to do some research about the hashtags you intend to use if they are not commonly used in your industry. You could discover that the same phrase is used by accounts that do not align with your brand’s mission and values.
There are some great resources around the web to help you fine tune your hashtag strategy. Here are two of my favorites:
How to Choose a Hashtag from the Twitter blog includes a flow chart which will help you hone in on the best hashtags to use for your brand.
Need some help brainstorming relevant hashtags? Check out Hashtagify.me where you can search for hashtags, discover related hashtags and get a list of leading influencers who are using that tag. Other hashtag research tools include:
Follow a few simple rules when using hashtags:
Related article: How to Use Twitter Like a Professional
Mentions and hashtags are an important part of your Twitter strategy. Use them thoughtfully and they will increase engagement on your posts, help you get noticed within your niche, and help you develop relationships with others in your industry. If you have any thoughts you’d like to add, please comment below. We’d love to hear what’s working for you on social media!
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in November, 2018 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.
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