One of the most common questions I get from people exploring how social media can help their personal brand or business is, what is a hashtag? For some reason, hashtags strike the fear of God into the socially unaware, but rest assured, peops, hashtags are really very simple!

What is a Hashtag?

A hashtag is this sign: #. It’s actually known as a ‘pound sign’. You’ve seen it all over social media, and even on print or television advertisements. A hashtag is a metadata tag which is used before a word or phrase and is used to group content around common themes or topics. Hashtags are useful because they help social media users search for content centred on particular themes in which they’re interested. They’re essentially hyperlinks which take users to a search results page, similar to the ones presented by search engines like Google, where all content around that theme is listed. Since users are bombarded by content on fast-moving social media sites, hashtags really do facilitate the search process – without them, content may well be lost amidst the plethora of posts!

Which Social Media Sites Use Hashtags?

They first made their social media appearance on Twitter, but are now used on most social media sites, including Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram.

How Do I Use Hashtags?

All you do is put a pound sign in front of the word or phrase for which people are searching. You can find out what people are talking about online by checking out what’s trending on Twitter, for example, or using a social media tool like hashtagify.me.

Brands are using hashtags, too, to foster conversations with brand advocates and potential customers. Sometimes, they jump aboard popular hashtags and other times they create their own (for help with creating a social media hashtag for your business, get in touch here). In addition, brands are increasingly listing their hashtags on media campaigns and promotional materials in traditional media, too, in an effort to drive social engagement (and, eventually, sales).

But hashtags are more than mere servants to search – used correctly, they can also extend your brand’s tone of voice. Hashtags, used wisely, can add context to a social media post and convey mood, or sentiments like humour, irony or cheek.

Five Tips to Get You Hashtagging in a Hurry:

1. Write your hashtag as all one word – no spaces! Like so: #doglover

2. To distinguish words from one another and make your hashtag easier to read, you can capitalise the first letter of every word, for example, #RugbyWorldCup2015

3. No punctuation or special characters, please! So write #dontdothat, rather than #don’tdothat

4. You can include letters in your hashtag, like this: #50ShadesOfGrey.

Want to know more? Watch this quick video from Boot Camp Digital…