I was recently a keynote speaker at a tourism conference and I was really surprised at how many people were asking the question, “What is a hashtag?”
Hashtags have become so integrated into our use of social media, I can easily see how any newcomer would be confused by some of the antics people get up to in their posts. In fact, some people have gotten so out of hand with their crazy hashtagging habits that it got spoofed on late night comedy recently…
Before we get too over-complicated, let’s go back to the basics.
What Is A Hashtag?
A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest. The hashtag helps to identify messages on a specific topic. (Source: Wikipedia)
What Are Hashtags Used For?
- Connect you with people you would have otherwise never met through a common interest
- Easily connecting people that are discussing a similar topic
- Grouping together similar social media posts
- Connect event attendees
Most importantly, there are two golden rules to remember when it comes to hashtags:
- Hashtags have no rules – and you never actually own one
- The best ones inspire everybody to join in
Why You Should Care About Hashtags
Hashtags are great because they connect you with other people that are interested in or are discussing topics related to things of interest to you personally or professionally. If there is a conversation going on that your business specializes in, don’t you want to be a part of it?
When you make a regular social media post without hashtags, the only people that will potentially see it are those who choose to follow your posts. When you use hashtags, your post goes to a larger audience that is also discussing the same thing. It’s like the difference between talking about fishing to your friends and talking about fishing with others at a fishing conference. Big difference!
Examples of Hashtags
Grouping tweets of a similar topic
Hashtags are probably most often used to simply group together tweets of a similar topic. For example, topics around social media marketing will use a range of hashtags including #marketing (sometimes #mktg instead, space is precious on Twitter), #socialmedia, #smm (social media marketing), #sm and many more.
This person is sharing an interesting social media stat and it links back to the article that it came from. They have used #socialmedia as a hashtag to connect it with other content related to social media.
— Social Media Today (@socialmedia2day) November 19, 2013
Here is another example of someone sharing valuable content but using a popular short form hashtag for social media marketing: #smm.
— DD Nadeau (@wxynot) November 20, 2013
Sometimes there will be hashtags trending that are meant to engage you in a larger discussion and they can be funny, serious or just plain random.
#youknowyourecanadianwhen someone bumps into you and you are the one that apologizes.
— Jon Hammond (@JonHammond7) November 20, 2013
Here is a staple Twitter hashtag ritual dedicated to a weekly indulgence of nostalgia by sharing a beloved, forgotten memory of the past. It can be a selfie of you rocking your old mullet or maybe something about an old band or tv show…
— Sarah Michelle (@RealSMG) November 14, 2013
#FF or #FollowFriday
If you’re wondering what #FollowFriday or #FF is on Twitter, it’s basically another weekly ritual but it is dedicated to shining a light on someone you think your followers should check out.
Here’s a great example of someone using #FF the right way.
— Robert Caruso (@fondalo) November 15, 2013
Bringing together tweets in a particular area
Local businesses cannot miss out on engagement opportunities that pop through the use of local hashtags. There are three different ways people use local hashtags on Twitter…
— VanArts (@vanarts) November 19, 2013
Airport Code (Vancouver’s code, YVR, is shown below):
— Mill Street Brewery (@MillStreetBrew) November 19, 2013
City Nicknames (example shows Vancouver’s common nickname, Vancity):
— Niska Napoleon (@NiskaNapoleon) November 13, 2013
Connecting event attendees
One of the most popular (and effective) uses of hashtags is for connecting attendees of an event. When this happens it creates so many great opportunities for engagement and networking that makes events more valuable then you can imagine.
Below are some examples of events I recently attended to show how some attendees made use of the event hashtag.
— Melonie Dodaro (@MelonieDodaro) November 16, 2013
— Steve Dotto (@dottotech) November 14, 2013
Should You Create A Hashtag For Your Business?
I must warn you…this is a dangerous strategy to attempt if you go about it in a self-serving way. There are too many brutal corporate hashtag blunders to discuss (go here & here, if you must) but I will share one example of a successful one.
Revlon Canada recently drummed up some hype for a new product launch with a promotion that encouraged beauty bloggers and their audiences to “Dare To Wear Blue”. The result generated a ton of great social media activity and genuine posts using the #DareToWearBlue hashtag.
WARNING: Don’t resort to uncreative hashtags that uses your company or product name and expect it to generate a lot of activity. The key is inspiring people to join the conversation.
How To Find Popular Hashtags
Rather than creating obscure hashtags that might find their way into the next SNL skit, here are a few websites and tools that help you search and find popular hashtags to use in your tweets.
The More The Merrier
Hopefully you know how to use hashtags better and perhaps will be equipped with enough knowledge to help someone else the next time you hear a person ask, “What is a hashtag?”
What are some of the most silly and useful hashtags you’ve seen or personally used? Let us know in the comments below.