Happy birthday to the hashtag

Eleven years ago, the hashtag was born on Twitter. Now over 125m are used every day on this site alone.

But it’s not just Twitter. Now pretty much any self-respecting social media site - even LinkedIn - sees users posting the ubiquitous # symbol in their content.

But what on earth are they, why are they important and why would they be of any use to business?

At their very heart, hashtags are simply conversations or tags. People merely add the # to the start of a word or phrase to act as a signpost. So we get #Brexit, #HIGNFY, #giftideas, #Edinburgh or #GCSE.

These conversations will often be real time and if enough people join them, turn into national or even international trends. Not only are they on Twitter but are also used massively on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and LinkedIn.

They can pretty much refer to anything of interest to social media users and reflect what people are talking about on any given day, or in fact hour.

Just as with any real-life conversations, social media users can do one of three things:

1.     Start one by simply typing a hashtag before a chosen word/phrase or under an image/video they post

2.     Listen to and monitor conversations by typing in the appropriate hashtag and keyword into the search bar of the social media site

3.     Follow the conversation and join in whenever appropriate

This is all very well but what's all the fuss about these hashtags? Simply put, they are a great way to cut down on all the noise - particularly on Twitter - and just focus on issues or topics that are of interest to you.

Combined with a social media dashboard like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck where you can create dedicated streams around hashtags, it is possible to get rolling news on these topics without having to navigate through thousands of other updates.

And you can even use apps like Tag O’Matic to generate hashtags around topics to ensure you reach the widest possible audiences.

Now we can start thinking how business can use them, just as long as they are part of a dedicated digital strategy of course! Here are six for starters:

·       Virtually attending conferences - just about all major events will have a dedicated hashtag. Just Google the event or search for it on Twitter

·       Networking - up and down the country, geographically based tweet-ups are springing up, reaching out to Millennials who don't like traditional networking or those business owners who can't attend in person for a variety of reasons

·       Business intelligence - what are people talking about and who are the key influencers using hashtags that you may need to reach out to?

·       Product development - the more you learn about your audience, the better you understand them and ultimately the better you can supply them with the products and services they want

·       Monitoring your brand or products - many companies now invest considerably in listening, engaging and ultimately measuring what is being said about them online

·       User generated content - by creating your own hashtag and asking customers to add it to posts, you can build a rich content reservoir

So, whether you're on Twitter and are getting sick of being bombarded with tweets, you want to understand why your child’s Instagram feed is packed full of posts with dozens of #s or you're merely wanting to engage with a new audience on LinkedIn, you'll know what to do!

Oh, and one final message. Don't be tempted to over-use hashtags. #Too #Many #Hashtags #On #The #Wrong #Channel #Can #Be #Off-putting!

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