What the #### is a Hashtag? – An introduction to the proper use of hashtags for small businesses

Everyone who has used social media has undoubtedly encountered the pound sign (#) followed by some version of unspaced text. While this may have seemed confusing at the time, this symbol or hashtag has become an important way in which the world communicates. But what is a hashtag? On social media sites, the (#) followed by text is known as a hashtag. Even with the uncanny rise of hashtags, many of us are still confused when it comes to how to use them and even more are confused when it comes to what they mean.


In 2007, a developer, Chris Messina, suggested in a tweet that Twitter start using hashtags to group different topics. Even though Twitter initially rejected the suggestion, journalists began using the hashtag to update tweets about the San Diego forest fires. As a result, the hashtag quickly gained widespread use.


A hashtag can be described as a label for content that helps other people find information on a specific topic. Anyone who is sharing information on a specific topic can add a hashtag to their message to associate their message with other messages of similar relevant content. Although the hashtag gained most of its fame through Twitter, other major social media sites such as Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Google+ now incorporate hashtags.

Hashtags have been ideal for following news stories and providing up-to-the-minute information about important events. In the case of natural disasters or huge stories, hashtags have become an information lifeline. Although hashtags were originally used for news stories, there has been a growing use of hashtags for business.

Hashtags for Business

Many major brands have incorporated the use of hashtags for business. If you are considering using hashtags for business, you should keep the following tips in mind.

  • Make sure your hashtags are relevant to your field, which will make your brand discoverable by users searching for those keywords.
  • Choose one specific account or set up a business account that will represent your brand. By doing so, you can ensure that users can easily find all of your relevant tweets in one location.
  • Creating your own unique hashtag is a great way to promote your brand. The hashtag should be short but descriptive. Most importantly, make sure you remind everyone to use the hashtag in all related tweets and in all promotional material.
  • Check out which relevant hashtags are trending and make sure you use it.
  • Test hashtags to make sure it is being used. Using a hashtag that no one has ever used will not produce results. The best hashtags are those that people are already using and are therefor searching for. One example would be #WereHavingaSale, which only one person has used and is therefor ineffective.

Ways to Use Hashtags for Business

1. Contest

    • One great way to use hashtags for business is to hold a contest and require that users use the hashtag to enter the contest. Make sure you understand the rules of each social platform regarding contests.

2. Connect with Other Users at a Conference

    • When businesses host conferences or meetings, you can easily find out who is there by checking the stream for the hashtag. This way you can send them a direct message and schedule a time to meet up directly.

3. Hold a Twitter Chat

    • Considering that Twitter is one gargantuan open platform, using a hashtag is one way you can designate who participates in the chat. On the other hand, there is no way to know if someone is responding to your topic or simply talking about and entirely different subject.

4. Check out Hashtags.org

    • Hashtags.org is an online service that groups hashtags and gives you an idea of what other people are discussing online. By knowing what is trending, you are destined to come up with ideas.

5. Use hashtags to learn more about your industry

    • Industry experts often use hashtags for articles and relevant news for your industry. For example, a company like Ready to Run would use #SEO or #SocialMedia.

Hashtags have moved well beyond just a current social media fad – transitioning to an online marketing necessity. In the coming weeks, Ready to Run will be discussing hashtags and a number of other social media marketing strategies. Hopefully, this introduction will provide some clarity on using hashtags for brand exposure online.

For a more indepth guide to #Hashtags, see our article: Facebook’s New Move: #Hashtags

Facebook’s New Move: #Hashtags

Facebook Announces Hashtags

facebook-hashtag-whiteA recent Facebook press release announced it has enabled “public conversations,” aka #hashtags, available starting June 12th. With this update, Facebook is joining other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and Tumblr, using hashtags as a way to organize conversation and link topics from one user to the next. Hashtags used through these other social media platforms and shared through Facebook allow engagement with current followers and may reach new potential customers who are not already connected. It will also connect you to the greater conversation on the desired topic.

(For an introduction to hashtags, you may be interested in: What the #### is a Hashtag? – An introduction to the proper use of hashtags for small businesses)

In the press release introducing the new hashtag feature, Facebook explained that users are utilizing the new platform to talk about what’s going on around them. Whether it be a tropical storm, who might take the Stanley Cup, an episode of Game of Thrones, or a TED Talks symposium, events like these are getting millions of mentions.

By making these hashtags clickable and interactive, Facebook allows users a richer experience and engagement into a topic or conversation. Facebook also clarified, on ABC News, that hashtagged posts will still respect the regular privacy settings.

What is a #Hashtag?

A hashtags is a term or idea preceded by the pound symbol ‘#’. The term embeds the category, so that a user can click on it to connect with other posts or images on or about that topic. This is a major step for Facebook toward their goal of becoming more of a search friendly platform, in addition to its social networking base.

You can consider social networking sites as a huge filing cabinet. It is filled with thoughts, statements, questions, and comments about different topics. Hashtags are like the tabs of the folders categorizing these different topics.

So, instead of fumbling through the file cabinet aimlessly, simply search a hashtag (which is searching a specific topic) or click on an existing hashtag to automatically be directed to the search page. By doing this, you will be shown all posts using that same tag, listed in chronological order.

So What Will This Mean for Your Business or Brand?

Facebook’s use of hashtags will not cause an abrupt change to your online marketing campaign strategy only enhance it. Here are some helpful best practices when hashtagging:

  • Incorporate hashtags into your posts, but do not only post a hashtag or overuse them. The tag should add to your message but not be the only element of that message.
  • Create a hashtag specific to your company that goes with your message and encourage followers and current customers to use it and create conversations around that hashtag.
  • Incorporate topic-specific terms that reach a targeted audience which has interests related to your product or services, such as #business or #NewYork.
  • Be sure not to over-tag. Limit your hashtags to 1 – 3 per post and be mindful of terms that others are already using and searching organically. This will help to reach a new audience that was not previously connected with or aware of your brand.
  • When tagging terms that require multiple words, they must be written without a space between, as one word. To help readers discern each word and understand what is being written, be sure to capitalize each new word, for example #SocialMedia or #PoliticalCommunications.

Hashtags allow for more brand interaction and a greater conversation because they link all similar tags in one easily searchable location.