It’s been 13 years since the founding of the hashtag and marketers are now questioning if hashtags are still relevant. Some find value in using them to organize their content while others are asking why do people still use hashtags in the first place. When we asked our community on our Instagram how they felt about hashtags, 66% said they’re a key part of their social strategies but 34% said they’re “over them.”

Part of the problem with hashtags is marketers can’t control how people use them. It’s common practice for people to hijack hashtags and exploit a brand’s marketing strategy for personal gain on platforms like Twitter or TikTok. Eos, for example, created the hashtag #MakeItAwesome to highlight how its products were made, but TikTok users have since adopted it to tag completely unrelated videos.

There’s also confusion over the purpose of a hashtag in marketing. In the Sprout Social Index: Edition XVI, only 25% of consumers say they use hashtags to find new accounts to like and follow—but as marketers we’re taught that hashtags help boost brand visibility. Add to this the debate over whether hashtags are even effective on platforms that aren’t Instagram or Twitter, and it’s no surprise some marketers are asking themselves: “is the hashtag dead?”

Hear me out…

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the hashtag, it’s still an essential asset in any social marketer’s toolbox and not worth writing off just yet.

When used correctly, hashtags can help marketers reach niche audiences, track campaigns and brand their social content. Realizing these benefits, though, requires greater specificity and intentionality behind which hashtags you use and when. If you’re using hashtags to reach new audiences, don’t assume hashtags will work the same on every social platform. If you’re tracking a campaign or contest, explicitly tell your audience which hashtags to include in their social post. In the following Tweet, Bud Light provides clear instructions on which hashtags people need to use to enter a sweepstakes to win a homerun ball.

The more general the hashtag is, the less valuable it will be. Instead of bandwagoning a popular trend or hashtagging #every #single #word, use keywords or phrases that are more niche to your audience. Relevance is key, but equally important is identifying hashtags that will help your brand stand out from your competitors and contribute towards your goals.

Lastly, hashtags are most effective when marketers exercise restraint. If you can use a keyword as a regular word, there’s no need to throw a pound sign in front of it. Hashtags are great for rallying your community and measuring audience engagement but going overboard can do more harm than good. Choose wisely.

If you’re still questioning the value of hashtags, take a moment to honestly evaluate how you’re using them as part of your strategy. What’s your intent behind which hashtags you use, and do you know how they perform across different social platforms? Focus less on finding the “right” amount of hashtags to use and try experimenting with different keywords and phrases to find your brand’s sweet spot.

When you approach your hashtag strategy with greater specificity and intentionality, you too can turn hashtags into a powerful tool in your social marketing arsenal.

Agree with our take? Respectfully disagree? We’d love to hear your thoughts on social! Tag us @SproutSocial on Twitter and let’s get a conversation started.