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How to Effectively Use Hashtags

One of the more impressive re-brandings is that of the pound sign. Very few people still refer to the tic-tac-toe board look-a-like by its pre-Twitter name, especially the younger generation. No, to us, this symbol is a “hashtag.”

Popularized by Twitter, the hashtag’s goal is to bond various social media users together with common topics. They serve as links to online conversations and can be ascribed to any subject imaginable, ranging from the ever-popular #thingsIdontlike to the more business-related #socialmedia. LinkedIn already allows the use of hashtags, and Facebook is rumored to start as well. Last year, someone even named their kid “hashtag” — well I guess in her case, it’s the capitalized “Hashtag.”

But like many good things, the hashtag has become a little too popular. With Twitter users hashtagging everything from #building to #never, the sign has received some backlash. Some accounts (such as @NYTimes with its 8 million followers) have publicly refused to use them at all.

If Facebook really does allow their use, we’ll soon see the sign everywhere. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, because the hashtag can be used effectively. Just make sure to follow these do’s and don’ts as a guideline.

  • DO: Use hashtags when tweeting about events. It’s nearly impossible to find an event today without an associated hashtag — for good reason. Event coordinators tweet memorable quotes, shout-outs to speakers, and relevant information, accompanied by the official hashtag. Find it on the event website.
  • DON’T: Use a hashtag in place of an actual Twitter handle. Tweet that you enjoyed your @Starbucks coffee, not your #Starbucks coffee. The account owner won’t get a notification if you don’t actually mention his or her Twitter handle, reducing the engagement of your tweet.
  • DO: Use a hashtag to start Twitter chats. These micro-conversations allow for an online discussion of sorts. Like events, there is a specific hashtag associated with the chat, and anyone who wants to participate simply adds the hashtag to their tweet. PC World recently listed seven steps for a successful Twitter chat.
  • DON’T: Use more than two hashtags in a given Tweet. After two hashtags or links, users start to skip over your tweet in their feed. #It #gets #a #little #distracting.
  • DO: Use a hashtag when tweeting about big events or popular industry terms. Search for information on how well a particular hashtag has done in the past 24 hours. Joining the broad conversations about major events such as the Boston tragedy or the election process (if this is applicable to your brand) indicates engagement.
  • DON’T: Tweet about a big event without doing your research first. Remember the #Aurora tweet?
  • DON’T: Tweet about an event with the wrong hashtag. If you tweeted your frustration with the Google Reader episode and added #KeepGoogleReader as opposed to #SaveGoogleReader, you probably looked silly (that is, if anyone saw your tweet at all).

Hashtagging reminds me of writing headlines — there’s no need to obsess over it. It should get your point across and grab users’ attention, but it’s not mandatory that it be witty or capable of going viral.

The hashtag is an extra element that you can add to your tweet to connect yourself more strongly with the myriad of online conversations taking place. Your ability will simply come by doing. Remember these do’s and don’ts, and your growing experience will take care of the rest.

Want more about how to properly use hashtags and learn more about Twitter and other social media platforms? Take a look at our 1-day Twitter for Marketing Professionals Workshop or 3-day Social Media Boot Camp!

About the author: Joseph Havey is the Director of Social Media for the Triangle-based Shelten Media, LLC, a start-up company specializing in social media marketing. He is a member of N.C. State’s PRSSA chapter, and writes for the school newspaper, Technician. In his free time, he trains for triathlons. 

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