As noted in the SmallBusiness.com Glossary of Twitter Terms, a hashtag (#) on Twitter is used before any word to associate a tweet with a specific topic or category. Twitter (and other social media platforms that we’ll explore in later posts) allows users to click on a hashtagged word to see a list of the most recent tweets that contain it.

Wait a minute. I thought it was called “the pound or number symbol”

You may be thinking, “Why is the ‘pound sign/number sign’ being called a hashtag?” It’s a long story, so we’ll simply say, “Because that’s what the Oxford English Dictionary calls it.”

How to create a hashtag in a tweet

This is perhaps the easiest instruction you’ll ever receive on SmallBusiness.com: To create a hashtagged term on Twitter, start a word with a hashtag by holding down the “shift key” and typing (or tapping) the “3” key. (⇧3)

  • No matter where in the tweet the hashtagged word appears, Twitter will recognize it. So, go ahead and hashtag a word in the middle of a sentence rather than at the end. You don’t have to write the word twice.
  • The hashtagged word can include both upper- and lower-case letters, but Twitter will recognize them all as lower case.
  • The hashtag ends with a space or symbol that isn’t a number or letter.

How to see hashtagged tweets created by others

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While there are many different ways to set up a dashboard that will allow users to keep up with multiple Twitter hashtags (including one from Twitter itself called Tweetdeck), this post is limited to using hashtags on the web-browser version of Twitter (Twitter.com). On Twitter, you can get a listing of recent tweets using a hashtag by using the search box (see above).

Some ways a business can use Twitter hashtags

There are endless ways to use hashtags. Here are just a few:

Use hashtags to be discovered by those who don’t follow you

Without using hashtags, the only Twitter users who will see your tweets are those who follow you. Using hashtags makes it easier for people to search a topic related to their interests and discover your tweet and your business. The Green Wagon, located in Nashville,  ends their tweets with #urbanfarming to reach customers interested in locally grown products.

Use a hashtag when tweeting about a specific brand or product you carry

Bigham Jewelers of Naples, Florida, tweet #WeddingWednesday every week to showcase their selection of “swoon-worthy” engagement rings.

Use a hashtag to indicate that a tweet is related to a specific location

The Creme Brulee Cart in San Francisco uses hashtags to let customers know what locations will be open and for how long. Sometimes they even showcase cute moments in the store.

 

Use hashtags when participating in a Twitter chat

The magazine Travel and Leisure hosts Twitter chats for its readers that allow them to interact with people featured in stories. They schedule a time in advance to promote it and ask that participants use a specific hashtag when asking questions or making comments. (Beware, however: Because Twitter is open to anyone, there are lots of examples of company-sponsored Twitter chats that became a magnet for negative tweets.)

Some Final Do’s and Dont’s when using hashtags

If you go overboard with hashtags, the people you are trying to reach will click the “block” or “mute” options to make you disappear from their Twitter feed. When used inappropriately or excessively, hashtags can be a nuisance to users and seem desperate to customers. Here are some ways NOT to use hashtags:

  • Don’t use hashtags to spam promotional messages about your company or product.
  • Don’t #spam #with #hashtags. Don’t over-tag on a single Tweet. (Twitter’s recommended best practices recommend using no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet.)
  • Use hashtags only on Tweets relevant to the topic.
  • Don’t try to start a hashtag with a number; it doesn’t work.
  • Avoid characters other than letters and numbers in a hashtag. (However, a few other characters work—for example, the underscore (“_”).)
  • Don’t use hashtags that are too broad. For instance, if your are tweeting about bad weather in your hometown called “Townville.” Don’t use the hashtag #weather. Use the hashtag #TownvilleWeather or #TownvilleWX
  • Don’t make up a hashtag so obscure no one else would #everthinktouseit.
  • Don’t make a hashtag that is too long to comfortably fit in tweets.

(Featured photo: Ken Varnum via Flickr)