Anyone posting content or updates on LinkedIn recently will have seen the new hashtag functionality that appears with each post both as suggested hashtags and as the capability to add any hashtag you feel is relevant.


This is a big deal. Hashtags are a means of applying user-generated metadata to content. Metadata is the means through which content shared on social media platforms is classified and begins to become a taxonomy.

While hashtags are key to linking content to current trends, for instance, or linking an item of content shared to other, similar, items of content that have been shared so as to increase content visibility overall, it also has other functions. It tells algorithms that there is a relational link between different pieces of content. While the content itself may be completely different their subject matter (i.e. the #hashtag) is common which means that this helps built an ontology (a set of concepts linked by common attributes).

Taxonomies as well as ontologies transform content that is unstructured into content that becomes structured in the platform’s index. Structured content is easier to evaluate and serve in other platforms like Google search, for instance, plus it begins to build a more granular picture of a profile’s true area of activity and expertise.

All of this sounds technical, which it is. It’s drawn from semantic search technology, an area which Microsoft pioneered in the past even though they were soundly beaten to its implementation by Google and it has direct implications on what happens on the web, in general, and LinkedIn in particular that I will now explain.


It’s About Identity

Suppose that you’re a red-hot marketer who totally grasps the way social media is used, understand his audience and produces content that completely resonates with them, day after day. You post cat pics, memes, GIFs, jokes, news of the day and popular video clips. You get hundreds, thousands even of likes, reshares and even the odd comment or two. Your account grows in popularity and this is a format you have successfully employed, with some variation, on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook.


What have you achieved?

In the pre-semantic search world a lot. You’ve increased social proof (likes and reshares), you’ve grown your follower profile and, traditionally, that gave you clout. That however, even if it worked exactly as intended in the past, is not any longer how things work and the reason for that is artificial intelligence. Microsoft is indeed putting “artificial intelligence first” in what it does, everywhere.

Hashtags, when suggested by the LinkedIn platform have to be machine-learning applied which means that in order to do that the algorithms look at subject matter, profile posting profile, profile posting interaction and engagement history, profile engagement history, history of the profiles that engage with the original poster’s post, length of comments, comments history, conversation sentiment and profiles’ publicly stated expertise. Assuming that semantic-search related filtering is put in place this is then assessed in an on-going context-driven way that is intended to do two relatively complex things: identify subject matter expertise and divine post-intent. Establish true identity in other words.


Why It Matters

The reason this matters is because if you’ve a self-title profile that says “Semantic Search Ninja” and only 1/3 of your posts are about semantic search and you get no one who is even remotely associated with that subject to interact with you through comments, reposts, posts and general platform engagement it becomes self-evident that you’re not quite up to the rank you’ve given yourself.

It’s even more complicated than that. LinkedIn uses the hashtags you use to determine what content it shows you and, presumably, how to prioritize the content you share to others. So here not only does it begin to govern the horizon of your content universe but it also begins to determine who will see it based upon its assessment of their interests.


What You Should Do Next

Using hashtags that clearly define your content is the obvious strategy to employ here. But it doesn’t stop there. If you’re truly interested in reaping the most benefits from your LinkedIn posts this is what you should be doing:

  • Determine which hashtags accurately describe your overall content strategy. List them so they are handy when you write and check to see if there are connections between them. For example, if your content is described by something as disparate as #boats #airplanes #trains and #automobiles #RecreationalVehicles and #Transportation should definitely be there as an overarching link to most things you post.
  • See which hashtags reflect the hashtag trends suggested by LinkedIn.
  • Assess whether the hashtags you use create attributes that are reflected in the expertise or skillset mentioned on your LinkedIn profile. To use an outlandish example it’s no good, for instance, if your content is based on all the transportation vehicles mentioned in the first point when your LinkedIn profile mentions “Expert Cheesemaker”.
  • Create a metadata map listing all the hashtags associated with your current content creation plan. Find overlaps and correlates between the hashtags you list and those which reflect the interests (and needs) of your audience.

Using hashtags is not rocket science, but it does require careful planning and an awareness of the semantic associations created by context and the way these now impact upon the attributes associated with identity: trust, authority and expertise.

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