What is a hashtag (#)?

By Nicky Rudd
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As part of our call for comms questions to be answered on the blog, we thought we’d start with one of the questions we get asked all of the time.

That is: “On Twitter, what is a hashtag?”

A hashtag or # as it is more commonly referred to on Twitter is like a signpost. By using a hashtag in a tweet, you are including a marker that should be relevant to the content that you are talking about so that users can easily see what the content relates to.

Here are some examples to give you an idea:

If your post is about shopping or retail, perhaps use #shopping, #retail If your post is about design, perhaps you could #design or #art or both.

If you are running a competition or a special offer, you might want to include #competition, #specialoffer or #discount in your tweet. You can also look for hashtags that are relevant to the business you are in. For example if you are a landscape gardener, you may use a variety of hashtags such as #britishsummer, #rhs, #eco, #bees, #planting and #design – all of these topics might be relevant to your business.

If you are at an event, you may be asked to use a hashtag in your tweets to more clearly reference what you are stating in relation to that event. We were recently at an exhibition with a client called Retail Business Technology Expo or #RBTE as we were nicely asked to use by the events team. In Twitter you can search on a hashtag and in one stream (a long list) you can see all the tweets that relate to this subject as is shown in the screen shot below.

By using hashtags, searches in Twitter become a lot easier. Many people are using Twitter as a search tool as well as the Google search engine and so if you are tweeting either personally or as a business, make sure you use hashtags to get your tweets included in conversations.

Hashtags are also a great way to look for new colleagues and customers who are interested or talking about your particular subject area. If you are interested in social media for example and you search on Twitter for #socialmedia you can in one easy step see a community that is already active and discussing all aspects of social media, whether that is tools, research, top tips or education and training.

If you’re stuck and you really can’t think of what hashtags you should or could be using, take a step back and consider your traditional marketing messages. What are you promoting or raising awareness of? What are the bigger topics that affect your business or your customers? Social media works best when it is dovetailed with the rest of your marketing so try and think more generally of the topics that you come into contact with in your business, eg. If you are a homeopath – you may well be interested in finding out more or commenting on a whole range of topics including #allergies, #naturalremedies, #pregnancy, #children, #hayfever. By searching and using these terms you can use Twitter as a platform to promote your ideas and to research what customers are saying and solutions they are looking for, as well as what your competitors are up to.

A couple of pointers – some people do use hashtags in their tweets and others don’t so if you are researching a topic, do two searches – one with the hashtag and one without. You will find two different conversations happening.

Also before you start using a hashtag, do a search on how it might be being used already. We worked with a client in data and analytics where the common term, Business Information is shortened to the acronym BI. If you search on this term on Twitter, you find a lot of tweets on a topic that isn’t relevant to this business community!

Word of caution, always double check your hastag to make sure it won’t be misinterpreted, I remember the unfortunate hashtag intended to promote Susan Boyle’s album party, but the hashtag reads ‘bum party’ something quite different! #Susanalbumparty

Next week, we’ll look at some top tips of how to use hashtags effectively with some do’s and don’ts, so look out for that. If you have other questions, you’d like us to cover in this blog series, just email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below. We’d also be interested in hearing what hashtags work for you and those that you have come across that have surprised you the most.


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