The humble hashtag seems to confuse a lot of people, especially those who are not Tweeters or Instagrammers. So, what is a hashtag and what purpose does it serve exactly?

The social media hashtag has come a long way since it first appeared on Twitter in 2007. Now used across multiple social media platforms, the hashtag is so ingrained in our vocabulary it was recently listed in the Scrabble Dictionary, (a sure sign it’s here to stay). Quite simply the hashtag is your permission to start a conversation that others can join, or it lets you join conversations that are already happening. The hashtag identifies topics and keywords within your social media content and as a result, it places context around your message – but that’s not all it does.

The hashtag increases the visibility of your content, organising it and enabling it to be easily found through search. This means it places your content into all the other conversations that may be happening in social media around the same topic and keyword. Brilliant. Failing to hashtag your content on social media platforms such as Twitter, Google + and Instagram for example, essentially means you are having a limited conversation with yourself and the handful of people who may be following you at that moment in time.

6 ways to use a Hashtag:

General Descriptor – Put a general keyword or hashtag around your content that matches how people would generally describe it. For example #chocolatecake #socialmedia #marketingtips #beachlife.

Geographic – Apply a location indicator to associate your content with a particular place, such as #sydney #southcoast #newyork.

Events & Festivals – If you are running an event use a hashtag and use it a lot to generate a buzz leading into it and on the day. Event Hashtags are a phenomenal way to build a community around the event and get people communicating around it. Events that do this well are #tedx #stateoforigin #sxsw #superbowl.

Cause-Related – Social media has become the perfect environment to take a cause public and hashtags are used to build momentum, no matter how big or small your cause-related activity is, make use of a hashtag to spread the word. Great examples of a hashtag being used like this recently are the #icebucketchallenge and #bringbackourgirls.

Integrated Activity – If you are running a campaign or are active in other media, utilise a specific hashtag to enhance the experience. Traditional media is doing this a lot now, using a hashtag to capture audience participation and feedback as it happens. For example #qanda #thevoiceAU #skynews, I love this use of hashtags, it really does enhance the viewing experience.

Personality – Posting something fun or just want to have a bit of fun then add a personality hashtag? Once you have included your strategic hashtags described above add a tag that may convey your humour or current state of mind. These kinds of hashtags are relevant to the post – an example of a tweet using a personality hashtag is: ‘Introducing a new item to the menu #glutenfreechocolatecake [your image link] #illbeoutbackeatingit’

From a campaign perspective when big brands, including entertainers, roll out advertising campaigns, announce tour dates or run a promotion these days, they will use their brand names as hashtags as a way of taking the message across multiple platforms and again, creating a community and conversation around their brand.

A word of warning. You can’t own a hashtag so make sure you stay on top of how it is being used, particularly if there is a chance people could take it over and parody it or turn it into a negative hashtag. Two great examples of hashtag fail are #qantasluxury and #askrobinthicke.

So remember, the hashtag indexes your content and makes it searchable – which is super important for amplifying the reach of your content. #overandout