Beginner's Guide to the Hashtag World
On Twitter, the pound sign (or hash) turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link. This allows you to organize content and track discussion related topics based on those keywords. So, if you wanted to post about the Breaking Bad finale, you would include #BreakingBad in your tweet to join the conversation. Click on a hashtag to see all the posts that mention the subject in real time.
The hashtag’s widespread use began with Twitter but has extended to other social media platforms. In 2007, developer Chris Messina proposed, in a tweet, that Twitter begin grouping topics using the hash symbol. Twitter initially rejected the idea. But in October 2007, citizen journalists began using the hashtag #SanDiegoFire, at Messina’s suggestion, to tweet updates on a series of forest fires in San Diego. The practice of hashtagging took off; now users and brands employ hashtags to cover serious political events (#Cairo) and entertainment topics (#MileyCyrus) alike.
As such #hashtags have turned out to be a very popular and dynamic tool in communicating "direct" and relevant content to the people that have the same and / or related level of interest.
Supported Characters in Hashtags
For starters, spaces are an absolute no-no. Even if your hashtag contains multiple words, group them all together. If you want to differentiate between words, use capitals instead (#BlueJasmine). Uppercase letters will not alter your search results, so searching for #BlueJasmine will yield the same results as #bluejasmine.
Numbers are supported, so tweet about #50ShadesOfGrey to your heart’s content. However, punctuation marks are not, so commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks and apostrophes are out. Forget about asterisks, ampersands or any other special characters.
Keep in mind that the @ symbol does something completely different. Using @ before a person’s Twitter handle will tweet at him directly, letting him know you have written to him via the @Connect tab. A hashtag will not. Sometimes users will hashtag a celebrity’s name instead of using her Twitter handle — it is acceptable to tweet #Lorde or @lordemusic. But if you are trying to reach someone directly, don’t use a hashtag.
There is no preset list of hashtags. Create a brand new hashtag simply by putting the hash before a series of words, and if it hasn't been used before, voilà! You've invented a hashtag.
How Business and Marketing are Using Hashtags ?
Consolidate your tweets: Choose a specific account that will represent your brand or business. Set up a business account, or designate one employee to tweet on behalf of the company. That way, users can find all of your tweets in one place.
Use relevant hashtags: See what hashtags other businesses in your field are using. If you’re promoting cheap airfare, you will want to use hashtags like #CheapTravel and #FlightDeals so users will find you when they search for those keywords.
Follow trends: See what hashtags are trending and make use of them — if they are relevant to your business. Using a popular hashtag that has nothing to do with your brand (for example, including #MileyCyrus in a tweet about cheap airfare) makes you look like a spammer and will hurt your credibility.
Create your own hashtag: If you want to create a special hashtag for an event or campaign, select one that hasn't been used before and remind everyone to use it in related tweets. Be sure to include the hashtag in any promotional materials. Make it informative but short — for example, Mashable uses #MashReads to talk about writers who visit our HQ.
Generate buzz: Creating a contest, raffle or promotion is a great way to get Twitter talking about your brand. Users will be more likely to retweet your hashtags if they know they might win a prize by doing so. For instance, if you're promoting a new confectionery shop called Candy Land, get Twitter buzzing by offering free treats to users who tweet #CandyLandPromo.
Remember, your hashtag’s visibility will depend on your privacy settings. If your Twitter account is private, only those authorized to see your tweets will have access to your hashtags. If you are using hashtags to increase your brand's exposure, make sure your tweets are set to Public.
Be careful: A tweet that contains only hashtags is not only confusing — it's boring. If your tweet simply reads, “#happy,” your followers will have no idea what you’re talking about. Similarly, if you tweet, “#BreakingBad is #awesome,” you’re not really adding much to the conversation.