What Are Hashtags & Why Are They Important?

In all my social media interactions with a variety of audiences, one topic — hashtags — tends to surface as a constant source of confusion.

HashtagI’ve talked to many individuals and groups in an effort to understand the root of this confusion, and it usually boils down to this:

  • Trepidation surrounding the creation of hashtags (“Is there a list somewhere?”) and
  • Once a hashtag is created, how — and when and where — should you use it?

There’s a definite intimidation factor linked to hashtags. They’ve essentially become a new digital language with multiple purposes, and any time something like that enters the lexicon, there’s bound to be a learning curve.

But I believe strongly in the value of hashtags (especially for business purposes), so I’d like to explain the basics of hashtags and share a few examples of how entrepreneurs can incorporate them into their business-building toolbox.

What is a Hashtag?

A word or phrase on social media — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. — preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.

Oxford Dictionaries

That’s it. It can be any word or phrase, so long as it’s preceded by the pound sign (#) and doesn’t include spaces (i.e. #vitamins, #WeAreUSANA, #makeitagreatday). Capitalization doesn’t matter, though sometimes capitalizing each word in a hashtag phrase makes it easier to read.

Hashtags allow individuals to follow along with specific conversations online. This is incredibly valuable at events (#USANA14, #SXSW, etc.) or when a particular topic is of interest to you (#WorldSeries, #nutrition).

Originally associated with Twitter, hashtags are now usable on several additional sites, including Instagram, Google+, and Facebook.

Is There a List of Available Hashtags?

Hashtags aren’t unique or proprietary like, say, a website address. Multiple people can turn the same word or phrase into a hashtag. You’re free to take any word (or phrase) you’d like, slap a # in front of it, and you’ve created a hashtag — and with it, a searchable link.

I like to compare it to typing a keyword — or phrase — in Google. When you search, you get back a list of results related to that keyword. With hashtags, you get a list of instances in which the exact word or phrase was used by others on a particular social network.

Why Should I Care About Hashtags?

I’m glad you asked. Here are 5 reasons I think you should care about hashtags, but I’m sure there are many others.

  1. They allow you to seek out conversations related to your business. As explained in this Mashable article, use hashtags to learn from others in your particular field.
  2. They let you follow along with what’s happening at live events. Or, if you’re attending a specific event, use hashtags to share your thoughts, interact with others, or even break news for your network. P.S. See you at #USANA14!
  3. They help expand your network. Search hashtags related to your business, see where you can provide value for others who are seeking help or answers, and make valuable connections.
  4. They keep you updated on trends. Twitter is notorious for breaking news, but it’s also a great spot to see trends develop. Use hashtags to keep current on the latest and greatest in business, health, nutrition, etc.
  5. They provide an opportunity to showcase your personality. Granted, this one isn’t especially valuable for business purposes, but social media followers like to know there’s a real person behind the avatar. Overly descriptive or downright silly — #aintnobodygottimeforthat — hashtags give a glimpse into your personality or allow you to participate in popular trends of the day. Tip: I recommend using these types of hashtags sparingly to keep things professional, but that’s just me.

How Do I Manage Hashtags?

It can be overwhelming. I recommend familiarizing yourself with tools such as HootSuite or Tweetdeck (and Statigr.am for Instagram). Each offers the ability to create “search streams” for easy viewing of hashtags. Here’s an example of my HootSuite “Searches” tab:

HootSuite Searches - Hashtags

In addition, go ahead and bookmark https://twitter.com/search-home. I use Twitter’s search function all the time to search for specific keywords or hashtags (explore the “advanced” search tool as well). Tip: Make sure “All” tweets is selected in the search results; “Top” tweets is the default view.

Twitter Search - Hashtags

Hashtag Resources

Many of the tips listed above were curated from a few of the following sources. Whether you’re new to hashtags or have a fairly solid understanding of them, I encourage you to spend some time reading through these short articles. They’re filled with a lot of valuable information.

I hope you’ve found this information useful and are ready to start capitalizing on hashtags and incorporating them into your business-building toolbox.

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