The following post was written in response to a question asked during an event called Ask Me Anything: Business Communications Under the Gun hosted by Me2 Solutions and Squishy Peanut Marketing. 

During our SpokaneAMA, one of the questions we received was about hashtags. I’ve been getting more and more questions regarding them and since they are on nearly every social media network, including Facebook, let me try to break them down for you.

First, what is a hashtag? Simply put, it’s a keyword or phrase with the # symbol preceding it.

Now, let’s dive in and talk about why everyone is using them. Hashtags were originally debuted on Twitter. Over the last few years more and more social media sites, like Instagram, Pinterest, and even Facebook have began to allow users to incorporate them into their online conversations.

Hashtags allow people to discuss a certain topic, keyword, or trend, virtually with the world. For instance, you’ve most likely been watching TV and seen the little #HIMYM show up over the lower corner of How I Met Your Mother or different ones over other shows. CBS isn’t putting it there just to take up screen space. Oh no. They are encouraging the viewer of that program to begin posting their thoughts about it on Twitter and Facebook, sparking a conversation about it.

When a hashtag is inserted into a post on social media sites, it automatically becomes a link. Clicking this link will show you a new stream of information of all of the users currently using that hashtag. This allows people to find other people on the same social media network they are using with similar interests. So if you were also watching the series finale of How I Met Your Mother and took to Twitter saying, “OMG! Can you believe how the show ended! Gonna miss #HIMYM.”, you could click on the #HIMYM piece, which will then take you to a stream of information with everyone using that same phrase in their updates.

This allows users to begin interacting with one another because they now have something in common. They are talking about the same thing. Hashtags range from very general topics such as“#tbt for Throwback Thursday to very specific ones like Budweiser’s #BestBuds hashtag they had running during the Super Bowl, which was part of their commercial campaign. This was a great example of how brands can use hashtags.

Many times you’ll see brands using hashtags that include the name of their business or company or that relate to a current promotion they are using. For businesses, creating unique hashtags and trying to get them to “trend” is a key reason for using them. It creates brand awareness and engagement, which is a huge goal of any brand utilizing social media.

Be sure that before you begin any hashtag campaign, you type your hashtag into the search field of social media site and make sure there is no bad press already associated with it or that another brand isn’t already using it.

It’s simpler than you might have thought to begin using hashtags and if used correctly, they can open up a whole new way for you to make connections, share your brand, and promote your business.

Have you started using hashtags, yet? If so, what have been some of your favorite conversations you’ve started from them?