Hashtags and Building Communities and Massive Following at Scale

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Hashtags and Building Communities and Massive Following at Scale

Have you ever wondered why hashtags are important to individuals, businesses and enterprises, social media platforms, marketers, advertisers, and the ever-evolving popular culture? In this article, you will learn everything you wanted to know about hashtags and building communities and massive following at scale. 

Discover the following:

  • Is hashtag really a big thing?
  • Why do users need hashtags?
  • Why do social media platforms encourage hashtags?
  • Why do businesses need a hashtag strategy?
  • Is the use of hashtags limited only to social media?
  • Common challenges and best practices in finding (or creating) high-quality than, efficient, relevant hashtags
  • The road ahead: What would be the future of hashtags

Is hashtag really a big thing?


Let’s see a few statistics

  1. There are 100 million posts on Instagram each day. And 10.7 hashtags are used per Instagram post. Extrapolate this whopping number and you get over a billion hashtags per day. Extrapolate further and you get around 2 trillion hashtags used on the platform since its inception. That’s about the volume, what about the impact? Well, posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6% more engagement.
  2. The average number of hashtags used each day on Twitter is 125 million. Using 1-2 hashtags per post can get you 21% more engagement. Further, Hashtagged tweets have a 55% more chance of being retweeted that’s an expanded reach. 
  3. In TikTok, a total of 83% of videos have at least one hashtag. The most viewed content category was entertainment, having a whopping 535 billion hashtag overall views (approximately 59 percent views of all top 12 categories). Challenges are very popular on TikTok and they center around hashtags. Challenges with hashtags cost brands $100,000+ on TikTok.

#Source: https://www.socialpilot.co/blog/social-media-statistics 


Why do users need hashtags?

The following cloud shows the importance of hashtags.

Let’s see what users want most.

Users need

How it works

How Hashtags Help


More Likes

Likes are a ratio of the number of people you have as followers and the quality and quantity of your posts. Posts at your users’ most active time get more likes.

Content discovery: People who like similar content outside of your circle can discover and appreciate your work. People that follow hashtags like more of the content then the person. That is they like your work not who you are (unless you are a celebrity in real world).


More Followers

The easiest starting point is to follow and request to be followed. Works naturally with natural family and friends and is a barter with virtual friends. Engagement in other posts increases your profile visibility and more followership.

People and Handle discovery: Hashtagged posts reach to people who search or subscribe to similar content, and they start following you. Many users subscribe to hashtags and that means lot more reach and organic followers.


Trending posts

That short 9 minutes of fame when your reel, story or post turns viral. High quality post with higher engagement than similar posts is surfaced on users feed (especially those not following you).

Feed interaction optimized posts: Based on user’s interactions and posts that have hashtag fitting their interests, social media platform optimize users’ feed. So, hashtags help you get in relevant users feed, all organically.


More Comments

Depending on the post, you may find three types of people commenting. (a) Fans or best friends (b) Make fun of each other or one (c) Add meaningful value or share a different perspective. And yes, polarized posts on politics or one on art, entertainment or sports tends to get more comments. (Experts use it.)

Boost your visibility: Social media platforms understand who (audience) comments (reaction) on whose posts (creator) and for what themes (topics, trends). These themes are identified with hashtags. So, use effective hashtags to reach out to real users who may engage more.


Greater Reach

Everybody wants to get to maximum users, whether their followers or not, and attract their competition’s fans, and every possible incremental fan as possible. And for this you need to increase reach. Net reach is tied with overall impressions, and the organic ones.

Boost your reach: Social media platforms use a combination of popular, niche and reasonably popular hashtags to boost posts. And they are intelligent to understand the right combination of hashtags (in similar category, domain) and popular hashtags to prioritize your reach.


Why do social media platforms encourage hashtags?

Hashtags are free but finding and using the right hashtag is an effort. If time is money for you, or better results (engagement) are valuable for you, then hashtags are not free. Before we understand how to use effective hashtags, let’s understand why social media platforms want hashtags. 


The intent

The differentiation


Discover exceptional content without hiring an army of curators

A popular or high-quality newspaper article is liked beyond the news desk, in the real world. Isn’t that the case with every social content? If the same set of finite groups of family, colleagues, and friends like a content, then it is probably relevant but not popular. True quality content should be ageless, nationless, genderless.

Hashtags democratize content discovery beyond billions of small circles (think of these circles as solar systems revolving around each individual or business entity) to beyond-circles (think of them as galaxies). Hashtags promise universal easy availability of content. Social media platforms treat each hashtag as a dynamic page where they can classify most popular, recent, and interesting content tagged with hashtags. This makes search and discovery easier.



Discover exceptional content creators, from the unknown rankless world

Each person sometimes speaks a line as memorable as Lincoln, Shakespeare, Rabindranath Tagore, Buddha, or Confucius. Just the difference is legends have every 9 minutes of their life memorable and most of us have only once-a-lifetime 9-minute fame. Before 2007, the world only knew famous people. As if everybody else didn’t matter. Social media platforms, and they often don’t get credit for that, made these anonymous people known and ensured each unique, meaningful content shine as much.


By differentiating the assumption that high-quality content comes only from known high-quality creators, social media platform corrected the content discovery game of search engines where good content had roadblocks. Search engines used domain authority, the creator reputation score, and page authority, the content acceptance score, to rank content. This gamification worked better for reputed people and business entities that already had a marketplace of content. In social media, if you have good content and good hashtags, you get recognition and acceptance faster.


Recommend the next wave of quality content, (as much as regular time pass conversations)

Users have two types of interests: broad interests or deep interests. 99% users for most times have broad interests (think of it as categories like travel, nature; or feelings like love, lol; or random happiness like photooftheday). For 1% of the world, they have deep interests because of their pedagogy, job or interest needs and they are willing to spend 1000 to 10,000 hours on that. There is an important need to help both type of users get what they want.


Hashtag suggestions and ranking evolved with time for different social platforms. Some platforms made category-hashtag (a book-page model), others made dominant hashtag, related hashtags, and random hashtags, (a mutual affinity model with courtesy space for anything else) and still others made a dominant hashtag and a child hashtag (a search filter model) paradigm. Regardless of the model, regular creators can easily use hashtags to evaluate content demand and use it to plan future publications.


Find and promote trending posts

Till around 2010, the real world had a word of mouth spread far faster than the Internet and the Internet was dominated by search and shopping then. A new paradigm was required to help cash on word of mouth and human natural desire to share, discuss, confuse, sort, negotiate and co-create. So why not help people discuss what they want to discuss and share in global townhall. And share everything.

Social media giants realized the Speed of social content generation can be faster than the speed of search content. And they did this by using hashtags and communities effectively. While the nature of content evolved from photos to photos with filters to newsrooms to videos to reels to challenges to virtual reality, the highway of unofficial content distribution became hashtags. And the crowning glory was the equation Trending = ((impressions + likes + comments + sharing +saves + reach = engagement)/time from post)



Strengthen network density by helping users find more followers

The overall engagement on a network is the sum of users and relationships they have with each other and how these relationships help meet each other needs. To strengthen the network, you need more connections between users and more reasons for more connections.

Shopping is built on need + affinity + recommendation + marketing paradigm. With hashtags, social media platforms builds these smarter ways to discover content and increase followers. Users can follow users or brands that serve their need, with whom they have political, religious, or social affinity, or whose content they trust because they trust people recommending them and content that shapes because of marketing campaigns.



Increase user stickiness

How interesting would be a room be where there are 11 family members and nobody is talking, discussing, sharing, or doing some antics? You get the drift. Presence of people doesn’t matter. Interactions of people with each other matters. And once interactions increase both volume of interactions and the number of participants in interactions matters.

Hashtags balance user engagement variety. They blend fun, learning, news reading, knowledge expansion and business outreach in a scientific way. And even more they do it in each user session, translating to each hour of the day. Unlike social and search, where the journey starts with user intent, hashtags blend that intent into immediate need and continuous feed and thereby increase user stickiness. This smart blend of formal and informal joins the heart and mind of each user and when feelings and intent/need matches discussion and participation grows. What a virtuous interaction cycle.



Generate business $

Business is business when it generates money and for profit. A loss-making business will eventually sink. So how do you generate more revenue in social media. It is difficult to monetize user handles, though you can have ad income on usage. Ads need to be directed and personalized to be effective.

Hashtags categorize users in millions of cohorts corresponding to top thousand+ key categories representing industries or product lines, and this is an important factor in #personalization and #targetedmarkeyting. Users engaging more on hashtags tells what they like, what they want and what they will buy. Brands will either bid on categories to grow or specific hashtags. (Internally for social media platforms, categories are an algorithmic mix of right hashtags.)



Branding the brand

If all brands were to advertise brand name or product name or service name by their name only then social platforms can have only limited monetizing. So what if one were to gamify the process of branding itself. And do it in way that the process of branding is married to the intent of branding: user recall translating in desired customer behavior.


New age marketing is participative, subtle, diversity-friendly, minimal, and yet omnipresent. For social media platforms New Age Marketing = branded hashtags + community building + success conversion.


Differentiate from other social media platforms

Each social media platform of merit is its own star system. The star systems must differentiate in the Milky Way of human existence. And while fundamentals of high-quality content, high quality engagement, high order relevance for general or specific use cases won’t change the methods to achieve results for each platform will vary.

Platform hashtag strategy, always undocumented, is both accidental and deliberate. The categorization structure of posts, the tags or hashtags recommended for nature of content, or a type of a user are not accidental. Whether you want more hashtags or less, fun, or formal, multi-lingual or English, memes or emojis, automatic 2-3 word replies or advanced suggestions, nothing is ever accidental. The platform needs to suggest what’s next, where else and how to beyond current user reach for each user. Tags and hashtags are the secret weapon.



Train machine learning and artificial intelligence

2020s would be written as the watershed decade of omnipresence of AI in and beyond everything we know and can think of. And there are many problems to be solved especially in social world? These include face recognition, emotion recognition, auto categorization, privacy and security, meta readiness, spam detection, filtration, auto-response, text to speech, speech to text, search-social-shopping suggestions, marketing personalization, recommendations, cobot social readiness, content completion, content optimizing, and above all fraud detection (and some are saying it is bot detection when somebody is musking a hyper-popular social media channel).

When photos (over 500 billion), text (lines, paras, pages in trillions of units), video content (exabytes) meet, it lays down the world’s largest repository of AI. And social media platforms are busy working on these. With hashtags, you get an anchor to mine so many things: content affinity, language affinity, profanity detection, fan following, state of emotions (including depression, suicidal tendencies, and terrorism), content recommendations, layer naming and layer usage to create new art and video, automatic content generation, paraphrasing, simplification, sentiment analysis, summarization, feed formation, campaign conversion, AR-VR expansion, and misinformation. (I can continue this list to make it a book but leaving it here.)


Why do businesses need a hashtag strategy?

The short answer is to serve the entire cycle of creation and monetizing.

  1. Brand recall: All brands, big or small. need to be discovered. For SMBs, it’s even more important as big brands take the limelight. To ensure content is discovered, ranked high, discussed, and engaged brands need hashtags. #Discussions #Celebrations #PeerToPeerAdvocacy
  2. Build a following that translates to increased business: Brands either buy following (absolutely bad strategy, for these are bots mostly machines, sometimes faceless gig-worshipper humans), influence following (through CSR and other relevant science and technology endeavors), attract following (through campaigns and living their product or service promise), or gamify following (through celebrities, influencers, paid partnership) and for all these (except for the bot strategy) hashtags help in building a following and extending the reach. #FollowersThatMatter
  3. New Product Launch: You have your product or service and are proud of it but how will users know. You may advertise (in fact you will). If you just advertise in old world (TV, print and hoardings), there is no community discussions. Just individual recall and you must relay the message again and again to get the recall registered. That’s cost. Huge costs. You need to broad base your strategy and think social and community by design. You should think of reviews and discussions before you think of content. Hashtags give you the conduit to reach your desired audience and quality posts with quality hashtags often supplemented with quality contests and engagement help you make engagement viral. #BuildTraffic #BrandAwareness #GoViral
  4. Solar lighting with micro influencers: (I wanted to say carpet bombing with micro influencers, but I don’t like bombing, I love peace.) Sometimes, you need to create a quick relay-super relay-echo-relay-compliment-relay-echo system that is talking the same thing (what you brand to sell or position) as a natural evolving, seemingly spontaneous, happily engaging conversation that can trend the popularity charts. To do that many brands hire influencers and micro influencers and simultaneously time an engagement that suddenly peaks and with hundreds or thousands of people, each with 1k to 5m following relaying the word. The brand may have created 8-10 themes of the conversation with high quality posts, planned media depth (story, feed, poll, reel, branded campaign) and set a guideline for influencers to use some common messaging and some original messaging. And it’s a rock and roll. When planned well, tens to hundreds of millions of organic conversations and discussions will happen. Brands use both popular hashtags and branded hashtags to break reach limits while continuing and celebrating the conversation. #BestReachFastImpact
  5. Retention: Protecting brand reputation and retaining a forever trust in customer’s mind is a 24by7 problem for marketing teams. In a world where trust is more fragile than glass, poor hashtag choices can be stupid, if not outright dangerous. Vice versa, high quality well-researched hashtag choices is a potent strategy to social retention. Using hashtags that adjust with your need (information, product placement, new launches, patches, small feature updates), demand (booking, registration, waiting period), trending themes (days, festivals, ESG or CSR-tied themes), hashtag mention rate (popularity, all-time or recent times), and competition is the need of the hour. #UserRetainedProfitRetained
  6. Differentiation: Everybody is different and so should brands be. Whether in a commodity market or in a highly differentiated market, differentiating your hashtags from popular and mundane, and relevant and quirky, or new and curiosity-raiser, or subtle and impactful is a continual theme. #KeepEvolvingKeepDifferentiating

Is the use of hashtags limited only to social media?

Absolutely not. Hashtags are part of popular culture and imagination, as much as of marketing-political-and-religious lingo and creativity, as much of academic and artificial intelligence training realm. 

  1. The making of everyday lingo. Check some of these hashtags: #JustDoIt #MeToo #NotInMyName #BlackLivesMatter #HeForShe #LoveWins #ShoutYourAbortion #ExperienceGiving #BetiBachaoBetiPadhao. Each of these hashtags are not mere topics or articles shared every day, they’re part of common person’s everyday talk. Somebody told me when I was young, when most people do the same thing in the same way then it’s called culture. These hashtags are shaping our culture.
  2. Exceptional brand promotions where the product’s main feature becomes the new verb, #HashtagVerb. Check some of these hashtags: #JustDoIt (Nike) #ShareACoke (Coke) #HereToCreate (Adidas) #ShareTheLoad (Ariel India) #CatchTheScam (HomeEquity Bank) #LetsDoLunch (Domino’s Pizza) #ShotOniPhone (Brand: You know who!). Don’t they ring a bell. It seems you know them, have used them or knowingly or unknowingly endorsed them.
  3. Communicating value in purpose-led brands. Gen-Z and Generation-Alpha are proponents of a new, more balanced, more equitable, hate-free, embracing, progressive world (well, mostly!). And they need brands to support the purpose as much as feature set. Look at these examples. The use of sustainable hashtags in #CrueltyFree, #Recycled, #Vegan and #MaterialAndNature in furniture ads. The feature selling hashtags #NoSulphates #Parabanfree #NoAnimalCruelty in skin care brands.
  4. Reinforcing an established value preposition: Brands sometimes cement their popular slogans as hashtags, and increasingly make new slogans as hashtags. Coca-Cola’s hashtag #OpenHappiness, Dove’s #ShowUs campaign and Mutual fund investment education in India with #SIPSahiHai campaign. None of these concepts were new but with effective hashtags they were massively popularized.


Common challenges and best practices in finding (or creating) high quality, efficient, relevant hashtags

Everything said and done, how do I find or create hashtags, both free and paid. 

Well, the system is broken and there is no universal elegant solution, and there are many use cases where there’s no solution. Let's understand the current methods and analyze future possibilities for technology, business and best-practices creators.



Best practices

What is missing


Hashtag discovery

Google for popular hashtags. Some popular blogs or hashtag services suggest hashtags. Often good!

Works for popular hashtags, equivalent of Instagram or Twitter top 1 million hashtags. Is abstract for top and bottom of these. Coverage is only 1% of possible hashtags. As you search beyond popular hashtags, quality dips significantly.


Auto complete suggestions

Popular social media platforms give AutoComplete feature in hashtags. As you type letters, top hashtags for these (internally sorted by usage) are suggested.

You need to know what you are searching to find it. Accidental discoverability is often irrelevant to the post you are searching.


Cross-language hashtags

Even in English (when other hashtags are written in Unicode) or in natural scripts. People resort to language translation logic to make hashtags, but they are average.

Most systems have zero or abysmally low coverage of cross-language hashtags. This is a goldmine with billions of new entries waiting to come to popular culture.


Combinational hashtags

Finding or selecting hashtags from multiple themes or from a vast set of options. People make their hashtag sets, rank them by frequency, and then select from them. This works best for a singular context but if your post has two or three contexts then you are up for a nowhere ride.

Real social media posts may have two or three themes/context running. The best suggestions are at the cusp of multiple themes. As hashtag systems become intelligent, they will learn to emulate human need not human search because the latter is still primitive for subtle situations.


Hashtag: When to post for best results

Many free services give a calculation of best performing posts based on time of day, day of week logic. This helps planning post time. Coupled with prescheduling the post, you can make an effective social media planner.

Services that can detect low- performing hashtags and suggest new trending hashtags on the fly based on the post you are writing are still not available.


Select hashtags for the post and not for words

Given a text string, find best hashtags for it. The current methods are very convoluted and non-scientific. Most people pick the dominant concept (often a noun or an adjective noun - denoting thing, service, or emotion) and connect its hashtags. This works only if you have singular hashtags.

While AI paradigms allow summarization, paraphrasing, simplification, emotion detection, sentiment analysis, currently no good web service or mobile app has intelligence to give hashtags for your context.


Select hashtags for an image

Many times, users just want to post a photograph and add hashtags. Any service to that effect is not easy. It is based on user’s inputs.

While photo-text, photo-keywords, photo-sentiment, photo-color analysis, photo-object detection algorithms exist, using these in a meaningful way to provide user configurable hashtags is still a pipedream.


Create hashtags on demand for your brand

Some poor slogan making service exists. The all-powerful GPT-3 is not ready for micro-expressions, still giving very standard definitions or template style slogans. People go to Pinterest or Google photos, or sometimes find inspiration from stock web sites or magazine covers. A few others would scroll similar style posts in social media and follow their hashtags as a starting source for creativity. All methods are broken and time-consuming.

A squabble style, DIY, play and discover creative engine to make new hashtags, and optimize them for predefined parameters would be amazing. Hope someday, somebody makes it. Maybe, the next step for dictionary engines, Lexico engines and corpus builders, and the big daddies in social media. Sometimes I feel surprised why dictionary makers did not have the most authoritative hashtag dictionaries, when the need for hashtags is growing faster than the need of words. I guess the reason is hashtags is too creative for academic geniuses. Also, hashtags make new words and authoritative guides (sic) follow words.


Lorem Ipsum Filler Suggester

For designers, Behance, Dribble, Pinterest are the creative discovery workplaces. These are not optimized for hashtags and have accidental short text that people concatenate and use as hashtags. The truth is 27 million plus visual designers who are buying paid software often get tools that enhance their image, video, font, styling usage, and now AR, VR. Ask them the power of content, as text, and they will tell how much they struggle to find or write magical short text or hashtags for their web pages, social media posts, mobile apps, or other projects. They use Lorem Ipsum Filler to fill empty cells with future replaceable content.

What if Lorem Ipsum Filler Suggesters were optimized for hashtags? What if they were dynamic and adopt to the intent of the page, frame size, word number need. What if they understood parallelism and segmentation? What if they understood image in context and find words or hashtags for it? Today, this may seem like a Sc-Fi, but it will be solved. It’s just that sometimes the future takes a lil more time.


Hashtag to content creation

You may smile but people do this. They would explore multiple posts on a hashtag and make notes and then use the inspiration to create their content. But this is mechanical, labor-intensive, and not easy to scale. Also, relevance goes for a toss, unless you are a great researcher, domain expert or writer-par-excellence.

Many copy suggesting programs are already making an entry and it would be natural progression for them. Even more if Gmail, the world’s biggest free text editor after Facebook can learn fast auto-complete and suggestions, the movers and shakers in social media platform could already be thinking on contextual completion of post based on hashtags or initial strings and have context in multiple media (for example 50% bias from photographs and another 50% from text). And when machines take charge, supported with finest of people, many more possibilities originate.


Note: 99.99% of users are looking at free hashtags and .01% are using subscription-based hashtag services. As more mature tools and better social media platform services on hashtags come into play, this market can grow exponentially. 


The road ahead: What would be the future of hashtags

Hashtags would continue to evolve as part of our culture, campaigns, and conversations. 2023-2024 gonna be the years when text, photos, intent, and creativity will integrate like never before and causing a 1000x improvement in creative possibilities.

Wait for the second part in the Hashtags and Building Communities At Scale series to know more about how hashtags will continue to evolve and how you can build repeatable strategies for finding, creating and popularizing high- differentiated hashtags. 


About the Author

Pawan Nayar is Founder and Chief Thought Officer at Cretorial Media Services.

Pawan is a polygamist and living a life with four love stories. Writing is his first love, data second, NLP third. (And Shalini, Pawan’s wife, is his zeroth love). Pawan believes everybody has a right to be creative and a duty to be.

Global technologies and businesses have helped people be far more visually creative than text/message creative. Search, social and shopping have divided trillions of daily queries according to their business lines. In that backdrop, Pawan is busy building text-based creativity at scale with the goal to help each person turn more creative writer, reader, searcher, connector, and doer. Many more things to discover when you connect.

App link https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cretorial.app

Enterprise https://cretorial.ai/business


Hashtags and Building Communities and Massive Following at Scale

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