Hashtags are much more than just a way to make Tweets and Instagram posts more entertaining. You’ve probably seen your fair share of random hashtags thrown onto the end of Tweets and Instagram captions that seem to serve no real purpose. But when used correctly, hashtags can be one of the most effective ways to track your social media marketing campaigns, brand influence and a lot more.

When it comes to hashtag tracking, a lot of companies are in the dark. What hashtag should you use? How can you tell who’s using the hashtag? Where do you go to track everything? What do you even need hashtags for?

Not to worry, we have you covered. We’ll break down everything you need to know about hashtag tracking and show you five easy-to-use techniques you can start implementing for your next social media marketing campaign.

The Purpose of Hashtags

Let’s start with the basics. At their most fundamental level, hashtags are a way of organizing content across social media. When you click on a hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, you’re taken to a list of other posts that use the same hashtag. For instance, the Instagram post below from Wahl Professional uses the hashtag #wahl in the caption.

If you click on #wahl, you’ll see all of the latest posts that contain that hashtag.

wahl hashtag

Speaking of Wahl, find out how they used Sprout Social to track hashtags and increase engagement by 4,307%.

Here’s why marketers should care about hashtags, and why you need to track them. Your social media marketing efforts should have a purpose. Whether it’s to drive traffic to your blog, spread the word about a new product or just to bring awareness to your brand. Adding hashtags to your social media posts gives you a way to connect specific posts to a certain campaign.

Let’s say you’re trying to build up some anticipation around a new product you’re about to release. Instead of sending out social media posts that just mention the product name, you could create a unique hashtag to track all of the conversations surrounding the release.

To give a specific example, let’s consider the Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events. In order to promote the show, Netflix used the hashtag #ASOUE.

Viewers started using that hashtag to talk about the show, which allowed Netflix to monitor all the conversations taking place on social.

Hashtag tracking gives Netflix the ability to see how popular the show is, and opportunities to engage with customers.

You should also track the non-hashtag version of important branded keywords as well. But the hashtag gives you an easy way to separate all of your different campaigns and get a quick look at the conversation.

We’ll give you some examples and ideas of how you can use hashtags to track all types of social media marketing campaigns.

Choosing the Right Hashtag

The very first thing you’ll want to do is decide on what hashtag you want to use. Ideally every campaign you launch should use a unique hashtag so you can trace all conversations back to a specific project or goal.

On the surface, choosing a hashtag might seem like a simple concept. But in order to give your hashtags the most visibility, keep these tips in mind:

Discover and Track Hashtags CTA

Do a Hashtag Search

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for hashtags, run a quick hashtag search in the social network you’re using. Search for keywords related to the topic of your campaign and see what pops up. It can help kick your creativity in gear and give you some great ideas for your own hashtags. You can even use Sprout Social as a hashtag search tool.

hashtag search

With a little effort, you can find hashtags you never even thought of.

Keep It Short

Long hashtags are difficult to memorize, which opens the door for people to make mistakes when typing them. If you’re using hashtags on Twitter, remember that users only get 140 characters. You want to leave room for people to Tweet a full message in addition to your hashtag. A good goal is to keep your hashtags at around 16 characters or less.

Don’t Be Too General

The purpose of hashtag tracking is to be able to measure social media engagement for a particular campaign. When you’re using a hashtag that 20 other accounts are also using, it’s nearly impossible to track your campaigns.

For instance, if Nike was releasing a new shoe called the Cross Trainer, it might consider using #NikeCrossTrainer instead of just #CrossTrainer. Do a search to make sure nobody else is using the hashtag before making your decision. You can also add your brand name to differentiate your campaigns from existing ones.

Make It Conversational

This may not always be applicable, but when possible, choose a hashtag that encourages conversation and engagement. It’ll push people to share and interact. For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts started the #mydunkin hashtag where its fans share images of what they bought. Can you say free promotion?

Double-Check the Spelling

You think you picked the perfect hashtag to track your campaign. It’s the right length, describes what you’re promoting and nobody else has used it. Then after someone Tweets you telling you to re-read your hashtag, you realize you made an embarrassing mistake. That’s what Susan Boyle’s PR team went through back in 2012.

In order to promote the singer’s new album, they came up with the seemingly harmless hashtag of #Susanalbumparty. But when you re-read it, you can see where they went wrong. The lesson here is to always double check what your hashtag says. Luckily it looks like brands have learned from this mishap because large-scale hashtag typos are a lot less common these days.

Now that you have your hashtag picked out and your campaign launched, how are you going to track it?

5 Hashtag Tracking Methods

The tips above will make it much easier to track your hashtags and avoid potential problems down the line. If you need more tips for finding hashtags, check out this post.

Now, let’s look at some specific techniques you can use for hashtag tracking.

1. Track Branded Hashtags

Sometimes hashtags will start to become associated with your brand without you even realizing it. You should always be tracking mentions of your brand on social media to see what your audience is saying and to reply to any complaints or issues.

But you can also take that a step further by analyzing what specific hashtags are used when people mention you in Tweets using the Sprout Social Trends Report.

social media trends report

This handy report shows hashtags and topics that people frequently mention when they mention you on Twitter. Seeing what hashtags your company is associated with can spark ideas for new campaigns and give you a snapshot of how effective your custom hashtags are.

2. Track Offline Campaigns

Have you ever seen a commercial on TV that included a hashtag? Hashtags in commercials have become very popular over the last few years as hashtags have become more mainstream. Hashtags give marketers a way to effectively bridge the gap between offline and online marketing.

One of the most recent examples of companies using hashtags to track offline campaigns was during the 2016 Super Bowl. Even though the overall usage of hashtags in Super Bowl commercials dropped from 50% in 2015 to 45% in 2016, it’s still a popular trend.

The hashtags gave companies like T-Mobile, Snickers and Hyundai a chance to see how people reacted to their commercials in real time instead of having to wait until the next day or rely on other outlets to supply them with the information.

Start thinking of ways you can use hashtags to track radio promos, commercials, events and other offline activities. It could be as simple as including a hashtag on any marketing materials you hand out for specific campaigns.

3. Track Real-Time Conversations

The beauty of social media is the ability to get information in real time. Specifically when you look at a site like Twitter, which is heavily used as a way to stay on top of current topics. For instance, Apple holds an annual event where the company unveils its upcoming products and plans for the future. People streaming or attending the event live, use the hashtag #AppleEvent when Tweeting about it. That allows Apple to easily see how people feel about new products in real time.

This is particularly helpful when you’re launching a new product or service. Create a hashtag, and have your team do some social listening to see conversations as they’re happening. You can easily respond to any issues and engage in conversations surrounding your launch.

4. Track Paid Ads

If you’re running Twitter Ads, it’s a good idea to incorporate a hashtag. Even though you may be measuring new email subscribers, click-through rate and conversions, you also want to consider the conversations people are having around your campaign. Including a hashtag in your Promoted Tweets lets you connect all mentions of your hashtag back to your ad.

Verizon launched a co-marketing campaign with Star Wars, and used promoted Tweets to spread the word. By using a branded hashtag, Verizon can easily track conversations and responses to their ad, even if people don’t mention Verizon.

verizon promoted tweet hashtag

If you plan on running Twitter Ads, make sure you include a special hashtag to go along with your Tweets.

5. Track Contests

One of the most popular uses of hashtags on social social media is to track contests. Instagram contests are very popular right now and brands are using hashtags to keep track of contestant entries. You’ve probably seen the “use #contesthashtag to enter” posts on Instagram and Twitter before. Here’s an example of Lay’s using a hashtag to promote an Instagram contest.

This generated a ton of user-generated content for Lay’s. Followers and influencers used the hashtag #DoUsAFlavor to pitch new flavors and often included product shots in their pictures.

Not only do hashtags make it easy to track entries, but it also helps promote the contest organically. Every time someone uses the hashtag, their followers will see it and be tempted to join in too.

Important Hashtag Metrics to Track

It’s not enough to just track a hashtag to see the conversations going on about it. You probably want to see some stats and analytics on how they’re performing. With a little hashtag analysis, you see how popular campaigns were and even compare your different hashtags against each other.

Sprout has a couple of reports that’ll give you helpful data on your hashtag performance. For instance, you can see which hashtags are commonly mentioned with your brand on Twitter.

track hashtags mentioned

If you’re more of an Instagram brand, you can use our Instagram Analytics to track your top performing hashtags.

instagram hashtag reporting

Decide on which metrics and data points are important to you based on your goals and start tracking.

Start Tracking

Hashtag tracking doesn’t have to be intimidating. Hashtags are one of the best ways to organize content and track campaigns and conversations on social media. Start taking a more strategic approach with your hashtags and unlock their full potential.