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While some may think this post is a little late (and admittedly, hashtags have been around for a while) – I was engaged in a conversation among peers the other day, during which only one knew what a hashtag was… and why to use them.

Social media continues to explode…

And the more smartphones, iPads, and wifi become a part of everyday life, those of us who specialize in getting messages across need to know the ropes if we want to contend.

Now, I don’t use Twitter a whole lot – on my list of priorities, it’s relatively low (and certainly not in my top ten), but that has as much to do with the audience I’m after as anything else.

On occasion, however, I do feel the need to impart some wisdom via tweet…

And when I do, I want to make sure I’m making the most of it.

For plenty of other folks, Twitter presents a huge opportunity to connect with prospects, but there is a “right” way to do it if you want to make a splash.

For those of you totally new to Twitter, all that business with the “#” sign are known as Hashtags… and they make all the difference.

Hashtags are essentially a way to categorize tweets (and similarly, a way to find tweets and users that you might be interested in).

When you put a word or phrase after a “#,” you’re basically turning it into a keyword…

Other Twitter users can then use this hashtag to find other similar tweets, or search for hashtags that cater to their interests.

The purpose is to create categories (and with it, temporary communities) within the larger community of Twitter users…

Have I gotten too far ahead of myself?

A hashtag can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it’s one word after a “#” (it can be more than one word, really… just don’t leave spaces between the words). But you want to make sure that it’s something descriptive and/or memorable.

You can use them as an afterthought or in the context of your message – just remember, hashtag the stuff that’s going to categorize both the nature of your tweet… and the nature of your business.

There are some good, beginner-friendly examples by the folks at For Dummies here.

Now, it’ll take a little practice to get the hang of this, but when you do – it’ll open up a whole new angle of connectivity on Twitter.

You might want to start by just searching for a few hashtags relevant to your business…

This will give you an idea of their popularity, and let you see how the experts are using them in context.

But you still might be wondering… What’s the point?

Well, when you’re effectively using hashtags in your tweets, you drastically increase their visibility, allowing them to be seen by non-followers with an interest in your hashtagged topic…

(This is also a very effective positioning strategy for capturing media attention – like the story on the Detroit Bankruptcy – reporters looking for an angle will certainly be monitoring hashtags “#Detroit” and “#DetroitBankruptcy” for example).

Paying attention to hashtags can also help you track mentions of your brand, see what trends are going on throughout the “Twitter-Sphere,” and when you establish your own, you provide a way for your fans and followers to centralize their conversations about you and your company.

A couple of quick tips for would be hashtaggers:

– Don’t use too many (it’s just kind of unattractive) – just pick a couple of good ones, or one awesome one, per tweet

– Don’t be afraid to use capital letters to distinguish words from each other (since you can’t use spaces)

– If you see a trending hashtag that’s relevant to your business, jump on the bandwagon (just make sure it’s relevant)

– Be creative, be clever, and get used to hashtags, because now they’re a part of Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram, and plenty of other social networks…

(For another quick crash-course, check out this how-to from HubSpot)

Again, it might take a little getting used to… but once you figure out how hashtags tie tweets together by topic… how they help users find new people to follow (and help guide people to follow you)…

You’ll be tweeting like a pro!

In your corner,

Charlie

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