What's the difference between hashtags and handles? Often, I find that I start rolling through terms too fast and have to back up when I'm talking about social media. Two of the most common terms that I get asked to clarify are "hashtag" and "handle."
Many confuse the two or use them interchangeably. They are completely different. When you understand the difference, you'll not only be wiser, you'll be able to actually put them to good use!
Hashtags are a way to track and search. Just like "the artist formally known as Prince." A hashtag is the symbol formally known as a pound sign or number sign. I don't care what generation you're part of, just be wise that "#" may be known to others as a pound or number sign. When it comes to social media though, a hashtag also refers to the string of characters following the actual symbol. For example, #LMCBsocial is used in posts from my company or in reference to my company. Events and brands often utilize hashtags. Social Media Day, celebrated every June 30, uses #SMday.
Furthermore, Social Media Day in Memphis uses #SMdayMEM. This follows the same structure as other cities taking part in Social Media Day (#SMdayPHX, #SMdayPHL, #SMdayTampa, #SMdaySD).
You might spot hashtags in advertisements. This is a way for you to connect with a business. Speakers may put a hashtag up during a presentation. This is a way of getting audience participation. It is a way for you to take notes; they are group-shared notes and public but notes and quotes none-the-less.
Then, the question of hashtag-use becomes "why?" Why would a brand use a hashtag in an ad? Why would they care if you post a picture of your favorite drink with their hashtag? Why would a speaker designate a hashtag or an event post their hashtag all over the venue during the event?
Think of them like keywords, even when they're not always words. A brand can search by hashtags to see what all has been posted about a particular product if it uses its own hashtag. It could see easily what others are saying if they use the hashtag. A speaker can see what resonates with an audience by later searching a given hashtag. Events get more publicity if they can get their hashtag trending. They will encourage pictures and perhaps have contests involving their designated hashtag. Organizers can use the hashtag after the event to see what participants really liked or how popular their event was.
There are a variety of pretty standard hashtags that trend on a regular but timely basis: #MondayMotivation, #WednesdayWisdom, #tbt, #MerryChristmas, #Empire, #TheVoice, etc. In these examples, they're used as a way to unite people who are all talking about the same thing. If you want to see what everyone is talking about during your favorite show or sporting event, there's probably a hashtag you can search.
Use hashtags to search for information. If I want to see what traffic is like before I head out around town, I search Twitter for #MEMtraffic. What are people reporting about a storm around town? I use #MEMwx, #MEMstorm, #MEMsnow. Your location probably has something along the same lines.
People will also make up silly hashtags that are more or less a way of stringing words together as a whisper or thought bubble. #Idontknowwhy #Ijustlikedoingthissometimes #itsjustforfun #dontgettoobentoutofshape #themoreyouknow Take note, this is not recommended for business.
Hashtags are free and can be anything as long as they contain only allowed characters. Emojis, symbols, or punctuation for example will not work in hashtags. They will be read as a space. In other words, if you use #dropmic&leave, that really becomes #dropmic. There also must be a space in front of the "#" symbol for a hashtag to work.
You can make up whatever you want for a hashtag, but do your homework! Before designating a particular hashtag for an event, search with it and make sure it's not already in use for some other reason. One group I worked with started using a hashtag for a local fundraiser but when searched, it was in use for a large carnival being held (with some questionable costumes) on the other side of the world. This could easily be confusing for those outside the host organization who were looking for pictures or more information about the local event.
Don't throw a trending hashtag into your post without knowing why it's trending either. Don't hijack a trending hashtag when your post has nothing to do with it. It's needs to be relevant to make sense.
Hashtags are most effective on Twitter and Instagram. They can be spotted on Facebook and other social media sites but flat out do not work on LinkedIn. At least not right now. If anything holds true to all social media sites, they're constantly changing. You can search online with a hashtag to get all kinds of results, though.
Handles are not hashtags. A handle is simply a name or nickname for a social media site. It's your username.
If you were around in the 70's, no double you had or knew someone with a CB handle. For those too young to know what a CB is, google it. 10-4 good buddy?
Just like a CB handle, you have a handle for Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. It's your created name (or real name, brand name, account name) preceded by the "@" symbol.
While hashtags and handles are two totally different entities, you might have a user who utilizes the same characters as both a handle and a hashtag. I use @LMCBsocial as my company's handle and commonly tag posts with #LMCBsocial. As @LMCBsocial, I can use any hashtags I want. However, I am only posting as one account, @LMCBsocial. I advise using the same handle across whatever social media channels you use.
Handles do not trend like hashtags. People, most often celebrities, will trend when a ton of accounts are posting about them but not their handles per se.
Use a handle in a post when you want to talk to someone. It's just like calling them by name. Some will answer. Some will not. Don't tag (tag means to use someone's handle) a bunch of people in a post on a regular basis or without good cause. This can be the equivalent of those telemarketing calls that caused you to rid yourself of your landline.
Whereas hashtags only apply to some social media, handles are across the board. On every social site, you have to have a way, a name, to be found. That's your handle.
When tagging a friend, a contact, or a brand on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. you can type in the @ symbol and begin typing the rest of the handle. Most of the time, you will be given a drop-down menu to auto-populate the tag before you finish typing the full handle. Sometimes an account has settings preventing it from being tagged in posts.
It's especially nice to tag a business when you're complementing them. This allows your contacts to use the tagged handle as a link directly to that account. It also prompts many businesses to reply or repost your kind message.
A speaker might also give you a handle in addition to her hashtag. It's nice to follow someone who does this and tag them in a picture of her (a good picture of her) or a quote of something she said.
Do you still have questions about hashtags or handles? Have you seen a smart way that one has been used? Tag me @LMCBsocial or email info@LMCBsocial.com.
You are NOW hashtag and handle wise. Go forth, and be social!