The Biggest Mistake You're Making With Hashtags

There is one gigantic mistake that you are making when you add a hashtag to your post. I see it all the time! I see it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest... every single social media platform that is hashtag optimized. 

This has to be one of my BIGGEST pet peeves. I've seen all sorts of brands, public figures, and even so-called social media pros make this mistake...

Your hashtag is too personal!

What the heck do I mean by that? I'm going to show you a few examples later on in this post. But let's go over what a hashtag IS so I can explain what it ISN'T.

Hashtags help to organize and categorize text, image, and video content, which aids in the process of content discovery and optimization.

(I adapted this description from an article on that discussed hashtag best practice on Instagram. I added in the bit that mentions text content.)

Basically, this description breaks down into two components:

  1. "Hashtags help to organize and categorize..." --> the function

  2. "...which aids in the process of content discovery and optimization." --> the purpose

So you have the HOW (the function), and the WHY (the purpose) hashtags should be used. Seems pretty straightforward, no?

Here's what I see all the time:


See that first hashtag, #MyDogIsTheCutestEverrr?

While I'm usually the first one to give hearts to cute puppy pictures, I have to call this post out. Not because the dog isn't cute. It is. It's damn cute. SOOOO cute!

But because your hashtag is WRONG.

Let's go back to those two components, how and why...

HOW: The function of a hashtag is to organize and categorize your content. 

Hashtags are a way to group your content together in a logical way, using key words or phrases. On social networks, a hashtag is used to 'file' (in my head, I imagine hashtags as big, invisible, virtual file folders) tons of public content together so it can be searched in a simple way.

In a technical sense, a hashtag like #MyDogIsTheCutestEverrr functions fine. Instagram still pulls all public posts with the tag into a search feed; users can still enter the tag into the search bar and find what they're looking for.

But let's consider the practical application of this hashtag. When you go to Instagram and enter it into the search bar, you get this:


There is only ONE POST in the entire Insta-verse with that hashtag!

So really this hashtag is organizing nothing. In fact, it creates a category where there shouldn't be one. There is a big ol' file folder with nothing in it. It's counter productive. 

WHY: The purpose of a hashtag is to aid in the process of content discovery.

SIDEBAR: It's my personal opinion that hashtags have no place on a post that is 100% purely personal content, with no 'business' agenda.

For example, if you have your Twitter or Instagram feeds set to Private because you want to share stuff with your family and friends. Don't even bother using hashtags - they just take up character space and serve no purpose. Why? If your feed is set to Private, your content won't show up in searches.

Marketers (like me) use hashtags to discover content, new people to follow, and topics of conversation that revolve around a specific subject area I'm researching. I can't find your Private content and maybe you like it that way. Fine. But don't bother adding a hashtag.

On the other hand, you might share personal stuff to your feed with the Public setting on, secretly hoping that one day your photo might get 'picked up' and go instantly viral. You're not alone! Go ahead and add in those hashtags (and I wish you luck) but PLEASE do it right.

Using an appropriate hashtag will help your content get discovered in the social sphere. Many of us (businesses) operate with the hope that some big industry influencer will stumble across our content, love it, share it, and off we are to the races! Using the wrong hashtags will make this far less likely.

I'd like to go back to the Instagram post example I used earlier - #MyDogIsTheCutestEverrr. Let's reverse-engineer the situation so I can demonstrate why this hashtag fails.

If I were a major player in the dog food business (Purina, for example) I might turn to social media as a source for photos of cute puppies that can be used in our other marketing collateral. As I start my search, I might start with key words like "cute puppies" or "puppy picture".

If I'm working on a specific campaign and my manager desperately wants the puppy to be a golden retriever, I might search key words like "golden puppy" or "golden retrievers".


While I'm scrolling through all these adorable pictures, I might discover that there are a lot of users who also use the tags #RetrieversOfInstagram and #GoldenRetrieverLove. 

As you can see, this leads me down a bit of a rabbit hole.

But nowhere along my search did I come across a post with the tag #MyDogIsTheCutestEverrr. Because it is too obscure! There is only ONE POST in the entire Insta-verse that uses that tag!

The Purina marketing department would have to pass over thousands of other adorable puppy pictures before they find your #MyDogIsTheCutestEverrr photo. 

The result is that you don't get 'discovered'.

And if your hashtag is not allowing you to be discovered and it doesn't serve as a way to organize your posts... why bother?

What is a good hashtag to use?

Based on the example I shared in this post, you should use tags like #CutePuppies #PuppyPicture #GoldenPuppy #GoldenRetriever #RetrieversOfInstagram and #GoldenRetrieverLove. Avoid getting more specific or personal than that or you will drastically cut down your visibility.

Use tags that are relevant to your post and brand/industry, but are also broad enough to encompass several other users' posts. 

If you're unsure, do a quick search on the social media platform you're using. Hashtags with very high volume mean that your post might be a needle in a haystack. Tags with very low volume have very low visibility.

If you notice your hashtag has really high volume, feel free to try some grammatical variations until you can find a happy medium. For example, #puppy (51M results on IG) and #puppies (7M results on IG) yield very different results. Although they're both solid hashtags to use, using #puppies on your post will mean that you have less competition under that particular search term.

Okay - talk to me! Have you ever come across a GREAT hashtag or a particularly BAD one?
I'd love to hear stories on both ends of the spectrum!

Leave me a note in the comments!


Aaaannd... I think I'll leave one more puppy here in case you didn't get enough:

The biggest mistake youre making with hashtags - Scribbles Social

Free stuff!

Check out our Resource Vault to get instant access to freebies, checklists, worksheets, and guides.