SOCIAL MEDIA: #Hashtags demystified

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One of the questions I frequently get asked is “What is a Hashtag?” so this week I’ll take a look at not only what a hashtag is but also how to create and use them effectively.

A hashtag is a word or phrase with the American number or pound sign affixed to the front of it, like this: “#hashtag”. Hashtags can be single words (e.g. “#music”) or multiple words grouped together (e.g. “#MentionSomeoneWhoHasAPrettyFace” – probably the longest hashtag I’ve ever seen!).

The hashtag concept was originally conceived by Chris Messina in August 2007 for tracking conversations on Twitter. However, you are likely to see hashtags everywhere now. Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and even Facebook use hashtags to create instant connections with other users. When another user uses hashtags to find a particular word, they will see all the posts containing that word.

If you insert a hashtag into your Tweet it doesn’t matter who you follow and who follows you. Everyone on Twitter following that particular hashtag (or searching for it) will be shown your Tweet.

In Facebook hashtags are tools for tracking your own posts containing them. You can also use them to track posts that others make using your specific hashtags or hashtags you are following or researching. Hashtags turn topics and phrases into clickable links in your posts on your personal Timeline or Page.

Google+ will intuitively add hashtags to posts if it thinks that they are relevant. Hashtags with grey colouring are those used by the author of the post while hashtags with blue colouring are added by Google based on the content of your post.

How to create a hashtag

If you think of hashtags as “keywords”, their power begins to become apparent. You can create your own hashtag by taking a highly specific keyword you want your potential customers to see (a phrase they’ll be searching for).

I’ve used a couple of Facebook’s guidelines for creating hashtags and then added a few more that you can apply all platforms:

-- A hashtag must be written as a single word, without any spaces

-- You can include numbers but punctuation and special characters (like $ and %) won’t work

-- No more than two hashtags per Tweet or Post except on Google+ when you can have up to three

-- Write your content first, then add the hashtag

-- Capitalise each word in a multi-word hashtag (e.g. “#TipsForBloggers”)

--Make it relevant

-- Putting too many tags in your post can be considered a spamming practice. It also makes your post very difficult to read!

How to make hashtags useful

The following three strategies are a great way to make the most out of using hashtags:

-- Use hashtags to index your content – you can set up a library of sorts that can index your content and make it easier to find, e.g., I often use #SocialMediaTips in my posts and Tweets.

-- Use hashtags to promote engagement – a favourite tool of conferences and event organisers. A hashtag can index what other people share about your event. Your guests or event attendees can converse during the event and keep in touch afterward using the event hashtag.

-- Use hashtags to gather data – If you are giving away a free product or service, you could encourage people to leave feedback using the specific tag. This will allow you to go back later and see how many people responded and what the sentiment is about the product or service.

Just creating a hashtag is not enough though: you have to promote it, get it in front of people, and most of all, use it and encourage others to use it as well!



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