What the Hashtag!

by: Kenneth Cossin

How to Properly Use a Hashtag in Your Social Media

What the Hashtag!

Don’t freak out!  I am sure that you have seen the proliferation of the hashtag on television today, and you may be asking yourself why this little symbol has become so ubiquitous.  As most of us know, it has been used in many different forms of communication and technology from telephones, voicemail systems, programming languages, etc, but today, it has really gained a lot of traction in social media.  Often, the hashtag is overused, because there is not much thought behind its real function in social media.  Also, we hear so many mentions of hashtags every day in the media that we just think that it must be important, therefore, we must use them, too.  I bet some of us have even caught ourselves saying things like, “[Hashtag], #NotMyProblem” or something of the like to get a laugh or two.  Well, this little mark has a lot more functionality than just to gain laughs or to annoy social media users.

Make Previous Posts Findable

What is a hashag anyway?  It is a pound sign or hash (#) that is placed at the beginning of a word or phrase that makes your social media posts searchable.  For example, one can denote #USA or #USAFlorida at the end of a social media post to make the post findable or searchable after the post is made.  When a post is created with the hashtag, you can go back to search for this chosen word or phrase without having to remember everything that you posted.  To explain further, posts with a particular hashtag can be aggregated to tell a story, provide information, supply metrics for measurement, create social media trends, track results, or a plethora of other uses.  These uses are only limited by your imagination.

Make Topics Searchable

Hashtags are used by most social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, etc.  The hashtag can help users of the platform to locate accounts that they wish to follow – that is, accounts that strategically fit into their interests.  For example, let’s say that you want to follow some great marketers on Twitter that publish/promote content about the marketing field.  You could perform a search, “#Marketing” on Twitter to locate all tweets containing this hashtag.  A majority of the results will not only provide you with interesting information on the marketing field but also provide you with Twitter users that have tweeted this interesting information.

Using a hashtag effectively starts with knowing how many hashtags to use and how to be strategic with its use.  A great rule of thumb is to use no more than three.  Also, know what search keywords are important to your tweet.  These keywords or key phrases should be hashtagged in your post.  Note that overusing hashtags affects your post’s readability.  You can read some of my thoughts on this subject in my article, “3 Quick Tips on Writing a Readable Tweet,” that helps explain hashtag usage further.

Make Hashtags Easy

When developing a hashtag for your tweetups, daily posts, etc, make sure that you use a hashtag that is easy to remember, easy to type, and not trademarked.

For example, for a tweetup, remember that the people tweeting are probably using a mobile device.  Therefore, don’t use a combination of capital letters and numbers.  Having to switch your virtual keyboard is a nightmare on a mobile device when you’re trying to be quick and efficient.  So, maybe use #entnews instead of #EntNews or #EntNews10.  Also, keeping it short and sweet is important.  The more typing someone must do, the more room there is for errors.

Steer clear of using trademarked names, as this can not only cause confusion but also create a potentially messy situation with the owner of that trademarked name.  Just play it safe and be creative in your choices.

So, next time you hear the word hashtag being used in the media, you will know what it means and how to use it properly.  While this catchphrase may fade from the short attention span of television and the viewing public, it will most likely continue its functionality in the social media world — that is, until something more catchy comes along!

photo credit: bunnysvintagevictory.blogspot.com