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How to use #Hashtags for Small Businesses

Hashtags have found their way into pop culture, and while they serve a useful purpose, often users do not understand the hashtag concept and mishandle them. This may cause users to either stray away from or ignore them all together.

Let’s take a moment to look at what a “hashtag” is:

Via @Twitter: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

For a more clear definition, here is what Wikipedia has to say about hashtags: A hashtag is a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the hash character, #, to form a label. It is a type of metadata tag. Words or phrases in messages on microblogging and social networking services such as Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, or VK may be tagged by entering # before them, either as they appear in a sentence, e.g., “New artists announced for #SXSW2014 Music Festival” or appended to it. The term hashtag can also refer to the hash symbol itself when used in the context of a hashtag.

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When I originally joined Twitter back in 2008, this was the only function I found relevant about the social network and thought that this thing, Twitter, wouldn’t last. I might have been wrong about that, but I wasn’t wrong about the hashtag. Whether your favorite football team wins or loses or you want to hear specific political commentary regardless of the side of aisle, the hashtag is a powerful tool to get quick information at your fingertips. Just find the appropriate # and join in.

Too often, people abuse hashtags and use them improperly by associating a word or phrase that is not meant for a conversation. Either that or it’s just annoying.

For example: #tiredfromalongdayatworkihopedinnerisreadybecauseiwouldliketoeat

For this reason alone, people stay away from hashtags or refuse to use them. These hashtag “abusers” often include small businesses. While big movie production studios or well recognized brands may utilize them successfully, it may seem like a daunting task for a small business owner to participate.

Here are 3 simple tips to help you promote your business or brand.

1. LISTEN: No matter what line of business you are in, you need customers. Feedback in any form, direct or indirect, is considered gold, and you should know what prospective customers are talking about. If you or your social media manager takes a few moments to seek relevant hashtags in your field, you may be able to see what is currently trending and take advantage of it.

For instance, you own a tire shop in Washington, D.C. It has been snowing constantly and news reports of potholes are popping up on the D.C. Beltway (I-495) causing damage to dozens of vehicles. Simply go on a social network, such as Twitter, and you may find a hashtag such as #DCPotholes. Based on the types of conversations you are seeing and the location the tweets are coming from, you might want to offer a limited time promo on your site offering repairs at a discount. Likewise, tag your tweet or efforts to that same hashtag (don’t forget to link to your site). If you subscribe to Google Analytics you can receive immediate feedback on your efforts. The best part of using hashtags for business is that it’s free.

2. CHIT CHAT: I touched briefly on this in the first tip, but join in on the conversation. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are great forums for conversation. Engaging prospects and leads is a great way to build a relationship with future buyers. Find a hashtag that you feel is relevant to your field and brand and respond to tweets, even if they aren’t directed at you. Start off a conversation by creating a simple tweet and adding a corresponding hashtag. Easy!

3. SHARE: Part of being a successful company with a viable brand image is being an “expert” in the field. Use relevant hashtags you find in your field to share on Facebook or to Tweet links or random useable tid-bits of information. According to Mashable, the average person spends 6.9 hours a month on social media. That is a lot of time to capitalize on.

There are certainly more tips out there, but these are the three to learn and get started with. At least now you know that #hashtags can be your friend, a very good friend.