So you’re the lucky person who’s been put in charge of the company Twitter account. Now all you have to do is tweet, preferably using a hashtag or two. But what are they, how do you use them and why are they worth using?

What IS a hashtag?

Hashtags are keywords relevant to your business and your followers – and sometimes the entire Twitterverse. They begin with the hash symbol, #, and end with the tag – a word or (unpunctuated) phrase that follows the hash symbol directly, with no spaces.

Hashtags have crept on to Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ too, although they’re not always searchable and opinion seems divided on whether this is a good thing. Some view this as lazy social media management; a sign that businesses are just automatically pumping out identical posts to all platforms. Others see it as a way to embed the hashtag into the customer consciousness.

What’s so great about hashtags?

Hashtags have the power to connect you to people you don’t already know. ‘But social media does that anyway,’ you cry; ‘I follow people to connect to them.’

BUT hashtags have the power to:

  • Potentially connect you to millions of people at once
  • Connect you to people you’re unaware of
  • Expand your conversations and promote your ‘message’
  • Gain you new followers, many of whom may have been unaware of

Click on a hashtag and all the tweets that contain it will appear. Tweeters track relevant hashtags, often using tools to follow several hashtags and Twitter streams at once, and if they’re tracking a hashtag you’ve included in your tweets, those lovely tweets of yours will appear! Simple.

Conferences, events, competitions, hot news items – all of these often have their own hashtags to bring all related tweets together in one stream, so that people can join in the conversation.

How should I use hashtags?

Hashtags are often used at the end of tweets, but they can be used anywhere in the message and you can use more than one (but avoid using more than two, as this clutters up your tweet and leaves less space for your message).

Hashtagged words that become very popular appear as Trending Topics on Twitter. As I write this, #FlyFriday is being used by Cadbury to promote a competition for a flight on the Cadbury jet, and #OITNB (for the TV show Orange is the New Black) is trending too.

As a business, you need to be aware of two different breeds of hashtag:

General hashtags: There are some hashtags widely-used by Twitter users from all walks of life, including:

  • #FF: Follow Friday. Want to recommend accounts to your followers? Simply post a list on a Friday using this hashtag. It’s good if you indicate why you’re recommending them too, particularly if your interests are diverse. Separate tweets might be best. e.g. great writers @Patrick_Ness @j_rowling tax experts @AccountancyPart #FF
  • #MT: Modified tweet – used if you are paraphrasing a tweet.

General hashtags related to your business, such as #accountancy, #marketing or #reflexology will attract interested people, but this means your competitors will use them too. So use them, but also include:

Unique hashtags: These can be used to differentiate you from the competition. If you have a long company name, consider shortening it or using an acronym for the purposes of your hashtag, and then adding a product or event specific ending e.g. #lumia1320, #BTTV and #BTSport Europe.

Finally and most importantly, before creating a hashtag, ensure it can’t be misread – and run a search on it to ensure it’s not been used already for something company specific or negative way (sites such as Hashtags.org or Hashtagify.me can be useful here). This will help you avoid the hashtag hall of shame, which includes such howlers as #Susanalbumparty to promote Susan Boyle’s album, and the Entemann’s #notguilty debacle. As for Chester Literary Festival’s #CLitfest…

The Team Organic Admin. Keeping everything tidy and neat!