HOW TO: Use Twitter Hashtags for Business

3065635056_cfeb119fceThis originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, which regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in corporate america.

If you’ve used Twitter for more than a couple of hours, you’ve probably already seen a tweet or two containing a word with the hash symbol (”#”) attached to it. That’s what Twitter users call a “hashtag,” and at any given time at least one of them can usually be found among the trending topics on Twitter. But what exactly is a hashtag?

Hashtags are essentially a simple way to catalog and connect tweets about a specific topic. They make it easier for users to find additional tweets on a particular subject, while filtering out the incidental tweets that may just coincidentally contain the same keyword. Hashtags are also often used by conference and event organizers as a method of keeping all tweets about the event in a single stream, and they’ve even been used to coordinate updates during emergencies. In fact, hashtags were first popularized during the 2007 San Diego wildfire, when the tag #sandiegofires was used to identify tweets about the natural disaster.

You can create a hashtag simply by appending the hash symbol to a word, like this: #hashtag.

How to Utilize Existing Hashtags

Because hashtags tend to spread so quickly and because Twitter users often search hashtags for content from people they aren’t following, using hashtags can be a great way to extend your reach on Twitter and connect with your current audience in a more meaningful way. There are a wide variety of already established hashtags — and new ones being created daily — that you can join. You need to be careful, however, that your use of hashtags is consistent with both your brand and the tag itself.

Unfortunately, as hashtags have become more popular, they’ve also become a vehicle for spam. You should never use a hashtag on a tweet unrelated to that tag, and you should never stuff your tweets with currently popular hashtags with the sole purpose of appearing in Twitter search results. Proper etiquette dictates that you should only use hashtags if your tweet is actually relevant to the tag’s associated meme or topic.

So which tags should you participate in? That depends wholly on your business and your purpose for using Twitter. For example, it’s probably a bad idea to participate in the #robotpickuplines hashtag if you own a health club and use your Twitter account to offer customer service to members. But if you own a record shop, you’ll more than likely want to join in the #musicmonday hashtag, in which people tweet about what music they’re listening to and suggest other musically-inclined users to follow every Monday. Or if you own a restaurant, why not tweet out your specials or some recipes on #tastytuesday.

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