Though the pound symbol itself has a much longer origin story, the humble hashtag-as-we-know-it – a pound symbol-led phrase, word, or acronym used in social media for fast hyperlinked referencing – is only about 11 years old. When Google Developer Chris Messina first suggested hashtags as catchalls for groups on Twitter in 2007, he likely had no idea it would become the marketing phenomena it has today. Much the way marketing began as aggressively outbound and has evolved to lean more heavily on clever inbound tactics, hashtag strategy isn’t just a “weapon” anymore – it’s an important tool for businesses that are paying attention.

Why Follow Hashtags?

Your business’ marketing efforts are meant to connect with and develop leads, not necessarily to socialize on social media. With that in mind, why spend valuable time finding, following, and keeping up-to-date on hashtag

1. It helps you keep tabs on tags.

If you’ve ever been on the “wrong” side of social media, you know that the wrong tweet, post, or image can dramatically turn the tides on nearly anything. The inter-connectivity of hashtags is a double-edged sword, while it can make you very visible to support sales and conversion, it can also paint a target on you if the internet decides that a particular hashtag is insensitive, tone deaf, or even outright offensive after the fact.

2. It shows you how successful your branding has been, and where your industry stands.

For example, we use #21Handshake to keep on top of who’s saying what about our brand, #AskGaryVee to listen in on one of our favorite entrepreneur’s insights, and #B2BMarketingAgency to make sure we’re staying ahead of the competition.

3. It makes niche influencers easier to find.

On your business Instagram, you might struggle to connect with the right voices to help you amplify your message. Following a hashtag allows you to see vocal proponents of that hashtag, giving you a shortlist of who could be tapped as a brand partner.

4. It’s excellent for managing promos and contests.

If you want to get the word out about your product or service, it’s hard to beat a visually-rich contest. Challenge your customers or clients to post an image of themselves using or embodying the spirit of your brand with a branded hashtag: you’ll get exposure, reach a larger audience, and follow along with ease thanks to your unique hashtag. Hint: this technique also works well for signal boosting / reposting entries as they appear!

5. It’s a jackpot for inspiration.

Your brand has an audience and an aesthetic, but if you’re remaining versatile it should always be a work in progress. Following a hashtag strategy of terms closely related to your target audience can help you better understand their interests. If you’re just starting out, find accounts that have regrammed or tagged your company before and see which hashtags frequently make their way into those posts. Even if you don’t follow suit, you now have a “shortcut” to finding other insta accounts that are primed to appreciate your products.

Remember, while hashtags are most commonly associated with Instagram in terms of visibility, they also get plenty of play on other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. If you see a hashtag that sparks business interest, make sure you cover all of your SMM bases and bookmark the collective hashtag URLs on those sites, as well.

Following hashtags on Instagram won’t overexpose your brand or message, either: that’s the beauty of it. It’s a bookmark that keeps you in the conversation without making your social media manager run a marathon of a posting schedule. No matter how successful your business Instagram account is currently, following hashtags can only help your efforts. So go ahead, hit shift + 3 to your heart’s content: there aren’t many viable shortcuts in marketing, but hashtags are an enduring one that’s still growing by leaps and bounds, a decade later.