Stop Pretending Hashtags Are The Same As Doing Something

It’s another one of those weird crossover posts from me. Where advocacy meets content marketing is a strange little world where you’ll find me lurking in the corners, blending topics that don’t really seem like they go together, and yet, I somehow make it happen. In today’s topic – hashtags.

This post is inspired by a quote by Shonda Rimes (think Bridgerton, think Queen Charlotte, think my current obsession Grey’s Anatomy – incidentally, yes I did miss that bandwagon, why did noone tell me how cool that show was, and I don’t like Addison and there were a gazillion things wrong with the TTTS episode in series 2.) I read the book “A Year of Yes” when my friend Amber recommended it, and this particular quote just jumped out at me.

So let’s talk about hashtags, and what role they play in communication and advocacy.

What Are #Hashtags?

You’ve seen hashtags on social media, and probably even saw the ones on this post on my pages. They’re everywhere, and go from simple, to complex, to #utterlyridiculous. They’re everywhere and can be confusing, or annoying.

Wikipedia says that the humble hashtag is a metadata tag that is prefaced by the hash symbol. (ok, or pound key for my US readers!). While that sounds like a mouthful, I’m going to break it down a little simpler.

A hashtag is a label. A filing label so to speak. Just like in a filing system, hashtags help group like posts together, and give an idea of what the post is about. Social media platforms use these labels to then sort posts out, and match them to people that they think might be interested, or to help with searches on topics.

Hashtags are used to group like posts, and also create dialogues on topics. While there are no rules or regulations on how to use hashtags, they can be both helpful and harmful.

What’s The #Harm?

You can’t always govern how a hashtag can be used, or what you’ll find when you search for a specific tag. Campaigns have been built, and have fallen down because a hashtag has been misused or hijacked. If I can emphasize one thing – ALWAYS do a search on any hashtag you’re about to use. Seemingly innocent tags can have a negtative association.

Make sure you do your research and check that the one you’ve chosen is squeaky clean. It’s probably also a good idea to check if it’s a “banned” hashtag – these are hashtags that social media platforms will push lower in algorithms, and sometimes drop your profile lower in priorities (this is known as a shadowban). It restricts or hides your content without warning.

It’s vital that you research your hashtags properly before you use them so you’re not negatively impacted.

Being #Effective In Your #Niche

Working with hashtags isn’t hard. At least, it’s not hard if you don’t overthink it. It can be tempting to do ALL THE HASHTAGS, but that’s honestly not a great approach. Using too many hashtags can make your messaging seem like it’s spam, and inauthentic.

It’s also a visual turnoff – being bombarded with a wall of hashtags can look a little desperate.

Instead, here’s my tip. Use 3-5 hashtags only, that are relevant to your post. Look at what’s being used within your community, don’t use only high ranking hashtags (you can get lost in the filing system!) – and most of all – like I said earlier, check out what is going on with the ones you use. Don’t fall victim to a shadowban!

Hashtags Aren’t The Only #Solution

In my world, it can be so tempting to want to push our messaging out and try to get as much attention to what we’re trying to talk about. And our messaging IS important – our voices are raising awareness of our rare diseases, our stories, and advocacy.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about communication styles. You don’t have to have fancy images, or videos. Focus on the content and create messaging that is authentic to you. Your online presence isn’t about how much money you spend on being visible, or getting the best designs, or pretty pictures. It’s about utilising your authentic voice, giving accurate and reliable information to your audience and establishing you as the authority in this area, and ensuring that you’re reaching your audience and engaging with them.

Hashtags are just a blip on the communication radar. They’re like the glitter on your artwork only. Your messaging is what people will remember.


And a final part to this article. Hashtags are an accent to your message. Using all 30 hashtags in a post isn’t advocacy. Posting once a year about a topic and using all the hashtags available isn’t advocacy. Using topical hashtags on a post that is full of misinformation isn’t advocacy.

Within your work, and your online presence, you need to be also doing something. Get involved with research, talk with organisations, share your expertise and information and build your personal brand. Social media is an accent, but you physically need to be doing things as well.

You can write all the posts in the world and create beautiful graphics, and understand how to work the social media algorithms. You can use hashtags perfectly and have thousands of followers.

But in this day and age, it’s also about action, and proving that you are more than a voice. We live in an age of authenticity, and people see beyond the bells and whistles and pretty words. In order to engage people in your story – you must be living your brand.

So please, stop pretending that hashtags are the same as doing something. When you’re sharing your story, or your brand online – show that you are living your values and your messaging.

Hashtags really are a great tool. Just don’t overuse them, and most importantly, don’t make them your identity.