You see them everywhere, but what does that funky-looking punctuation mark really mean?

Hashtags effectively build communities and create great opportunities to market your business or even yourself.

With their recent arrival in Facebook, hashtags are more ubiquitous than ever. You’ve seen them in numerous print, Web and video ads. They even pop up as conversation vehicles on TV shows and live events.

Hashtags can be a bit intimidating or confusing for those new to Twitter or becoming exposed to them for the first time on Facebook.

Turns out it’s one powerful pound sign, particularly when it comes to building your online presence and brand. Check out these six recommendations for mastering hashtagery and please leave your own tips in the comment section!

* Build your audience

Hashtags keep people connected to specific topics and provide a great forum for sharing ideas. We tend to follow and contribute to industry-specific hashtags like #mktg and #socialbiz, for example. Contributing to these kinds of communities by adding the hashtag to your relevant tweets will expose you to a much larger audience and you’ll likely see a few new followers or fans after sharing some quality content.

* Engage your audience

Start a conversation using a topic word followed by “chat.” Professionals and hobbyists typically meet for conversation at a specific time each week and a moderator comes armed with questions to drive discussion. For example, we keep an eye on the #CMGRchat thread each Wednesday afternoon for tips on social media community management.

This is a great opportunity to engage your audience, network with peers or establish yourself as an industry expert or leader. Try moderating a chat at a time that makes sense for your customers or peers (lunchtime is usually ideal). Oh, and be sure to promote the heck out of it in every way possible or you could be talking to yourself.

* Follow a conference/seminar/event

If you’re at a professional event, hashtags are a great way to share nuggets of wisdom and inspiration with fellow attendees. If budget cuts held you back this year, following the hashtag is probably the next best thing. It’s almost like being there, except you won’t get to take part in post-seminar shenanigans.

Larger events typically establish a hashtag in advance. If you’re are an organizer, make sure you include a unique hashtag in your plan.

* Avoid trending topics

You’ll just get lost in a sea of tweets where nobody cares what you think. All those hashtags for TV shows and products are intended to be discussion tools, but contain way too many updates to be effective for discovery or exposure. You might follow a trending tag as a focus group of sorts if the commentary is relevant to your business, but keep in mind that hashtags are meant to be conversational, so use them for engagement and not research.

* Establish your #brand

Hashtags only require a pound sign, so anything is fair game. Establish your own identity, use it to reinforce your specialty and perhaps encourage folks to interact with you via your tag. ABC is the only idea-based marketing agency we know of, so it makes sense to attach #ideabased to tweets about our work or clients. What’s the purpose? Coveted retweets that include your hashed tagline will give you nice exposure. Use your brand tag in tandem with a larger conversation to gain exposure in different communities (e.g. #ideabased #mktg).

* Run a contest or chronicle an event

Creating and promoting a hashtag for your contest or event provides an instant collection of valuable thought and images. You’ll be able to put all of your entries, comments and content in one place. Use a social curator like Storify to preserve and share your user-generated content.

A few notes about #Facebook

Hashtags in Facebook have a long way to go in terms of effectiveness, something that will surely change as time goes on.

For one, the tags aren’t clickable on mobile devices, which means chronicling a conference or event isn’t going to happen quite as widely or quickly in Facebook as it would in Twitter.

Ditto on the tweet chat concept. Tweets won’t load live in the thread, which kind of defeats the purpose.

No harm in applying these tips to both services, though. Get out there, expand your reach and establish your brand with a solid hashtag strategy.


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