Hashtag 101: What Are Hashtags and How Do They Work?

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By Erin Pittman

Do the importance and significance — and maybe even the entire point — of the widely-used hashtag elude you? If so, you’re not alone. There’s more to the hashtag than simply posting a picture of your three-year-old self sobbing on Santa’s knee with #TBT (Throwback Thursday) — a lot more.

What Is a Hashtag?

Let’s start with why this thing we once referred to as a pound sign is now called a hashtag. It started back in 2007 when Chris Messina, a technology expert, tagged his tweet with #Barcamp, trying to gather information about this global technology unconference. Boom. It exploded from there.

Hashtags are more than just a little symbol. They catalog conversations about a single topic in a searchable way. Once used, all hashtags are indexed by the social media network they are used on and included in future searches for that hashtag. When you add them to posts, hashtags become clickable. Clicking on the hashtag brings up a separate page that includes all posts on that network containing that hashtag. It’s way cooler than the old card catalog we used back in the pound-sign days.

Why so much cooler? Hashtags bring people communicating on a single subject together from all around the world. Hashtags simply contain the # symbol followed by a word or phrase relating to your post, but they are powerful little phrases.

hashtag, your words mean business

How to Properly Use Hashtags

Using hashtags is extremely easy, but using them properly takes some strategy. Here are some things to know about hashtag smarts and etiquette:

  • Choose a keyword or phrase related to your topic. Add a # in front of it and remove all spaces.
  • Don’t try to smoosh in too many words. #itcangetjumbledandhardtoread. (You can alleviate some of that by capping the #FirstLetterOfEachWord.)
  • Less is more. #Don’t #tag #every #word #in #your #posts. Choose just one to five #keywords or #phrases.
  • Use hashtags with a purpose, making sure they are relevant to your topic. Adding pointless tags to your posts on occasion can be fun, but don’t overdo it. #DontBeTooSilly #ilovehashtags #thesearenoteffective
  • Research trending hashtags before you decide on ones for your posts. You could reach a larger audience if you can tap into a popular one. Type your hashtags into the search bars for your platforms to see if they are trending.

Creating and Effectively Using Hashtags

Hashtags are a tool businesses can use to increase followers and creatively engage with them, as well. But remember to do your research first. You don’t want to send out something like #nowthatchersdead and leave the entire internet wondering if it’s Cher or Thatcher who’s dead. (It really happened.) Take these steps before gracing social media with your newfound hashtag:

  • Consider the purpose of the message attached to your hashtag. Maybe you want readers to be able to find all your posts in one place. Or maybe you’re trying to start a trend (which is a little more difficult).
  • Look at it from all angles and all capitalizations, and ensure that it can’t be read inappropriately.
  • Consider your audience and research which hashtags are currently popular. Can you make a play on an existing one?
  • Check what already exists, and be sure you aren’t duplicating. You might not like what you would be lumped in with.

Think of creative ways to use your hashtag as well. Perhaps you want to run a contest, and to enter individuals must write their entry as a post and tag it with your designated hashtag. There are a variety of ways to use hashtags to connect with your audience.

You’ll find hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest and YouTube, and they are definitely here to stay. And to stay relevant — and searchable — your business should be in the game. #GetStartedToday

“Your Words Mean Business” provides insights and tips to business owners, organizations and professionals seeking to better their performance and increase their bottom line through sharpening written and marketing communication skills.

Erin Pittman ([email protected]) is Lead Content Marketing Developer for Prince William Living.

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