Also known as the number sign and the pound sign (not to be confused with the British pound sign, ‘£’), the ‘#’ symbol that appears on updates on Twitter is called a ‘Hashtag’. Hashtags can be one word (e.g., #Education, #Boston, #Business) or a combination of words (e.g., #SocialMedia, #SmallBiz, #ThingsGrandparentsSay). Their function is simple: group all messages on a certain subject into a searchable set. It works as a subject heading, where people can categorize their Tweets as pertaining to a certain subject or category. One can then search that Hashtag to see what people are saying about that subject. For example, if you Tweet the following message:
“I love supporting Boston startups like Leaf! #Boston”
This Tweet will be added into a stream of all other Tweets that use the Hashtag #Boston. This becomes extremely useful for consumer feedback, for example, because you can invent a Hashtag (as simple as #nameofyourbusiness) of your own and encourage people to use it when expressing themselves about you on Twitter. Hashtags are also useful for other things like social media contests, where users can enter just by using your Hashtag in a Tweet, or ‘Twitter Chats’. Twitter chats are simply a way to have a public conversation on Twitter about a certain subject, where anyone can jump in and participate.
Hashtags are also a great tool for widening your audience on Twitter: by including relevant Hashtags in your business Tweets, you allow yourself to be ‘discovered’ by other people searching and/or talking about those subjects. For example, say you’re the owner of a small coffee shop and you wanted to spread the news about a discount on everything mocha for your ‘Mocha Mondays’. You could Tweet the following message:
“We want to make your Mondays more bearable, so stop by [name of coffee shop] for #MochaMondays and get half-price on everything Mocha! #CoffeeLovers #Deals”
This Tweet would be included in a stream of everyone’s Tweets that use the Hashtags #CoffeeLovers and #Deals. It would also be included in those for the #MochaMondays Hashtag, which you can check on regularly to see if anyone (and if so, who) has said anything about your Mocha Monday’s deals.
There is no such thing as owning the rights to Hashtags, so creating one is as simple as coming up with a clever category under which to classify buzz about your business. Similarly, anyone who wishes to use it can, so make sure to double-check for any miscommunication or alternate ways to read your combinations of words when coming up with Hashtags.