Best Practices for Using Mentions and Hashtags on Twitter and Instagram

Recently one of our clients asked about the difference between mentions (@) and hashtags (#) on Twitter and Instagram. I left the conversation thinking about how they are used and misused, and how they can be added to tweets and posts for more effective social media marketing. I also realized that there may be other clients and subscribers of ours that would like to know more about this topic.

When I first started using Twitter and Instagram I didn’t fully grasp how important mentions and hashtags are, or how they’re used differently. It’s something I learned over time, using the platforms myself and watching the interactions of others.

First, it’s helpful to examine how Twitter and Instagram are used. In B2B marketing, the platforms are typically used to share important announcements, interesting content, brand developments, and a glimpse behind the scenes. You’ll often find bits of conversations between the brand and its followers. The use of mentions and hashtags helps users of the apps find brands and other users who have similar interests.

The Difference Between Mentions and Hashtags

@ Mentions

On Twitter and Instagram, mentions are used to call attention to or draw the attention of another 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 share your post.

Best Practices:

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.

A Warning About Mentions:

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

Hashtags are for grouping conversations and categorizing content about a topic. Like mentions, hashtags on Twitter and Instagram are searchable, so you can view what other people are tweeting or posting 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.

On Twitter, 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.

  • On mobile, click the search icon, and “Trends for you” will appear.
  • On desktop, “What’s happening” appears on the right sidebar of your home page.

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 to 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.

Best Practices:

Hashtags add value by being helpful to 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 post or in a string of hashtags at the end. Keep in mind Twitter’s character limit and compose tweets that are concise and engaging.

On Instagram, you are limited to 30 hashtags in posts and 10 hashtags in stories. Select hashtags that will make your posts discoverable by your target audience. Think about what they will be searching for as it relates to your brand or product. Looking for popular hashtags? You can search for a hashtag to find out how many times it has been used.

If you’re a local business, be sure to include your location and product or service in your hashtags to help your brand be discovered by patrons in your area. Examples are #SOHOpizza and #chicagoitalianbakery.

Hashtags are also valuable for branding. Come up with your own hashtag phrase and use it in your social campaigns. Branded hashtags 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!

A Warning About Hashtags:

On Twitter, if you want the maximum exposure for your tweet, 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 some of my favorites:

How to Choose a Hashtag from the Twitter blog includes a flow chart that will help you hone in on the best types of hashtags to use for your brand.

How to Get Discovered on Instagram has tons of great tips for using hashtags and mentions to help your audience find you on the app.

Need some help brainstorming relevant hashtags? Check out 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:

Avoid These Mention and Hashtag Mistakes

Follow a few simple rules when using hashtags:

  • Don’t use punctuation or spaces within a hashtag or mention.
  • Don’t use hashtags in advertisements on Twitter. You want to drive people to your website, not have them click on a hashtag.
  • Don’t overuse hashtags. Using too many hashtags in a tweet is self-serving and spammy.
  • Use the right hashtag or mention. Research the correct hashtags used in your industry by your competitors and your followers.
  • If you’re not sure of the @name of a Twitter or Instagram account, look it up so you can mention the correct account.

The best practices mentioned above are also relevant for other social media platforms including Facebook, Pinterest, and TikTok. Be sure to include hashtag research in your overall social media strategy to help categorize your posts and make them discoverable by your target audience.

Using hashtags and mentions thoughtfully 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!

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.

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Rhonda Bavaro wears many hats at SMA - Operations Director, Inbound Marketing Strategist and Content Writer. She loves helping business owners achieve accelerated growth through inbound marketing and creative content marketing strategies. She enjoys writing about digital marketing, sales, social media, technology, and health.

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