The hash or “#” sign is used on twitter.com to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. For example, if you Tweet, “I’m attending a fundraiser tonight in support of the Obama 2012 campaign” you could replace “the Obama 2012 campaign” with the official hashtag of the Obama campaign “#Obama2012“. Hashtags are both clickable and searchable on Twitter. Clicking on or doing a search for a hashtag will take you to a real-time stream of Tweets (including your own) using #Obama2012.
Hashtags are important because they allow you to both track and chime in on trending topics.
Finding & Using Existing Hashtags
Finding hashtags that are relevant to your organization can be a major task. Fortunately, there are tools that exist to help with the process. Hashtags.org allows users to search hashtags, view real-time Tweet streams and explore trend graphs. Your can also check out Tweets from similar organizations and see what hashtags are being used.
One you’ve found the right hashtag there are a few things to remember. Using a hashtag that complements your message opens you up to a massive audience and places your Tweet in the middle of a world-wide conversation. It’s important to remember, however, not to overuse hashtags! Overloading your Tweets with hashtags waters down their usefulness and using hashtags that aren’t relevant to your Tweet is considered spamming. To reiterate, this is from Twitter:
• Don’t #spam #with #hashtags. Don’t over-tag a single Tweet. (Best practices recommend using no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet).
• Use hashtags only on Tweets relevant to the topic.
Using Your Own Hashtag
Anyone can create a hashtag. Simple add a “#” before a word or a group of words without spaces in a Tweet and you’re on your way. If you’re thinking about creating a hashtag, be sure that your hashtag adds value to both your organization and your supporters. For example, if you’re running a campaign to keep funding for local parks, something like #saveourparks would help add context to your Tweets and create an easy to remember organizing tool for your supporters.
Once you have a hashtag, share it with your supports and promote it on your website using a Twitter hashtag button.
Tracking & Monitoring Hashtags
Websites like HootSuite.com are very helpful to hashtag users in that they let you set up columns to track and monitor hashtags. Additionally, HootSuite is great for organizations with profiles on multiple social networks, as it allows you to send and schedule messages and view your feeds from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all in one dashboard.