Do you remember when the # symbol was just a button on your telephone?
I do, and you probably do too. For the longest time, I referred to the pound sign as the "number symbol." You'd see the symbol when a business' phone number or fax number was listed (e.g. phone #: 555-5555). The pound sign is also used by automated phone systems (voicemail, customer service lines, etc.). While the symbol is still used in these ways, it's much much more prevalent in the social media world today. And it goes by a different name—the hashtag.
The use of hashtags on Twitter dates back to the summer of 2007. Chris Messina, an early Twitter user, composed a tweet in August of 2007 asking what people thought of using # for organizing messages into groups. The idea grew from there, and hashtags are now embraced by Twitter users all over the world.
Perhaps the coolest thing about a hashtag, is that anyone with a Twitter account can "start" ("create" may be a better word) one.
A few hastag pointers:
- The maximum number of hashtags is three per tweet
- Catchy, clear and consise is the way to go
- All the characters cannot be numbers
- Offensive language is frowned upon
When it comes to hashtags, you still might be thinking - "So, what's the point?"
Well, since hastags help you categorize messages on Twitter, they can prove to be a very useful marketing tool. Hashtags can assemble a large number of tweets under one thread allowing you to see who else is using the tag, and the context in which they are using it. Essentially, hashags create discussions.
To show an example of the conversation a hashtag can create, I'll use a tweet from @nikegolf, as they prepare for the launch of Tiger Woods' newest golf shoe.
Since July 1, 2009, all hashtags have been hyperlinked to Twitter search results for the word or phrase used in the hashtag. So, when you click on the TW14 hashtag (or do a search for "#TW14" on Twitter) you can see the latest (or all) tweets that use this particular hashtag. Nike Golf is using the hashtag to start spark conversation from golfers about the design of the new shoe, whether they plan on buying a pair, new elements of the shoe, etc. And letting one of the actual deisgners of the shoe answer questions in real-time is a pretty cool way to connect with consumers/fans.
Small businesses might not have have near the following that a global company like Nike has, but that doesn't mean they can't use Twitter, and hashtags to increase their patronage.
Before you beginning coming up with your own hashtags, keep the following in mind.
- Has this hastag been used before?
- Incorporate industry specific keywords.
- Make sure the hashtag is relevant to the tweet in which it is used.
- Be creative!
A good source for hashtag info is hashtags.org, a site where you can find a ton of info and articles on hashtag nuances, and you can even track your own hashtags or any other hashtag that interests you.