How to Measure Hashtags Like a #Champion

An image to illustrate the concept of how to measure hashtags.

I get it. You want to be found in social media, which is why you use hashtags in every post. But this urge for attention can sometimes have unexpected or even disastrous consequences. Or just be a waste of your time. Which is why we decided to offer a little measurement advice on the #hashtag obsession.

First, to be honest, I hate hashtags. (#IHateHashtags? 🙂 ) They are overused and frequently make it harder to read a post. I tend to skip posts in which there are a lot of them. But I also will confess to using them. If you’re on Twitter, you’ll know that pretty much every measurement thing I post uses #measurepr, because I want measurement people to be able to find the measurement tidbit that I’m posting.

If you use hashtags that are consistent with your brand, you can ignore this rant. If, for example, a life sciences company with a female CEO or founder uses #womeninscience, then I’m all for it. But if a company with a Leadership web page that is a sea of white men starts using #juneteenth or #blacklivesmatter, it’s worse than an attempt at greenwashing, it’s likely to cause a serious backlash.

Rule #1: Stay focused on the target audience

The goal for most hashtag use is to be found by your target audience and thus become more popular with them. So most organizations use number of followers and engagement metrics to measure their hashtag success. But those metrics only measure the attention you get, not whether or not you have an actual impact on that target audience.

So, Rule #1 is to keep in mind your desired audience when deciding what and how to post. Use a tool like Followerwonk or SparkToro to figure out what your audience pays attention to.

For example, I checked with SparkToro to find the hashtags that people who are interested in PR measurement most frequently use. Here are the top ten, in case you were wondering:


HashtagPercent Using the Hashtag

Note that is is a list of the most frequently used, not the most effective. Effectiveness depends on your goal, and I’m not sure how one would know which are effective for which industry or type of business.

You’ll notice that #measurepr isn’t on the list. Probably because, for all I know, I’m the only one using it. Clearly I need to eat more of my own dog food. An equally likely explanation is that PR people are much more likely to post about content or influence marketing, or respond to #journorequest.

Rule #2: Be relevant, and beware of getting lost

What you don’t see on the list above is any reference to a social cause or advocacy. That doesn’t mean that you, my beloved readers, don’t care about diversity, climate, or any other cause. It’s just not the most important part of your conversations about public relations measurement. Sure, #womeninbusiness and #nonprofit do also appear farther down on my SparkToro list of a whopping 250 most frequently used hashtags. But most likely because people who are interested in measurement may not be in charge of a company CSR or advocacy program.

The point here is that for your hashtags (and your measurement of them) to be effective, you must use hashtags that are relevant to your topic and audience, and reflect your corporate culture. If you toss in hashtags that are just popular, then you may indeed be casting a wider net. But you also risk ineffectual communication by muddying the waters.

Also, beware of getting lost. We worked with Talkwalker to check some of the most popular hashtags of 2021 and created the chart above. So if yours is just one of millions of tweets about Mother’s Day, what are the chances of anyone remembering it?

While I feel badly for dads, who only get half the love of moms, to me the gap between them looks like an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Especially if you have dad pictures on your website or a cool dad story in your company. And while I’m sure you’d love to be part of a major month celebration like #pride or #cancer, your chances of getting lost in the crowd there are much greater.

The other thing we learned from our analysis is that, not surprisingly, single-day celebrations like #juneteenth or #420 offer less attention, but perhaps a greater chance to stand out. Assuming, of course you have something interesting and relevant to say. And that, as we mentioned above, your organization actually practices what you preach.

Rule #3: Don’t hop on the wrong bandwagon

What you don’t want is to prompt a scornful backlash, or become the laughingstock of Twitter. (See the disastrous consequences we mentioned above.) Suppose you hop on a popular hashtag, but then it turns out that your website, your CEO, or something in your corporate past makes you sound like the opposite of whatever you are advocating for. Between the trolls and bots you’re going to be flooded with haters.

So get out of your bubble and your board rooms. Don’t just Google a proposed hashtag. Run it by some people outside your company—a couple of cynical Gen Z-ers will do nicely—and see how they react. Gen Z may not be your target audience, but beware their snarky jokes. They can turn the Internet against you.

Rule #4: Measure hashtags: measure what matters

Yes, measuring what matters is important for something as small as a hashtag. Think carefully about the real point and purpose of your posts (ideally, they relate to the business goals of your organization). And don’t get seduced by the vanity metrics that hashtags are designed to pump up.

Remember, you are using hashtags for a reason. And if you don’t know that reason, you are probably wasting your time.

Keep your audience in mind. If your target is scientists and you’re attending a scientific conference, don’t just measure and report on the retweets you got. Half are probably your employees and friends anyway. Do some useful measurement by comparing yourself to your competitors and peers. Success means having the greatest share of engagement among attendees at the conference, so look deeper than just how many hashtags your fans used.

Measure real engagement, like the extent to which people quote your tweet in their own content, or share your LinkedIn post with a comment or caption. That way you are measuring true engagement by people (or really, really good bots), not just the action of robots or troll farms.

Better yet, can you show that your hashtag got people to come to your booth, or convince them to show up at your product launch party? That’s some engagement that, so far, is bot-proof. ∞

Photo above by Oliver Dumoulin on Unsplash.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.