What the %&*$ is a #Hashtag and What Is It Good For?

I admit to being somewhat flummoxed (I like that word!), by the use of the hashtag (#) on Twitter. Sure, I get the general idea and I use hashtags myself. I understand that using this symbol in front of a word or phrase will help those who are interested in certain issues readily find relevant posts. But, doesn’t that happen through organic search anyway? Recently, I came across an article that I thought might shed some insight into the issue and, while  it included some relevant tips and suggestions, I’m still left wondering:

“Can’t I achieve the same thing through just regular search results?”

Where hashtags seem to have the most relevance, and where I think they’re most effectively used, IMO, is for driving traffic to information related to a conference or presentation, or attempting to build brand awareness for an individual, organization or product.

So, for instance, if I’m speaking at a conference, I might want to include that conference hashtag in any related posts I generate so that those interested in the conference can easily aggregate or find all related posts. The posts would take up fewer characters out of the 140 available to me. Instead of saying: “Excited to be speaking at the National Conference of the Most Brilliant Speakers in the World  about (whatever my topic might be),” I could tweet: “Excited to be speaking at the #NCMBSW conference about my views on…(whatever).” The hashtag leaves me with more space to share additional content, perhaps even a link, and also results in my post appearing in the streams of anyone following this particular conference.

I get that.

What I don’t get is using hashtags for generic terms like #marketing. If I create a post that includes either “#marketing” or just “marketing” I believe my post will show up in streams of those interested in marketing. The use of the # seems superfluous (another cool word!). But, I do this – I do it for myself and I do it for my clients who often insist that I hashtag certain words that they feel will drive more traffic to their posts and, ultimately, their web sites. I just can’t see the value in using hashtags for commonly used words.

On the other hand, if I wanted to create my own group of followers, however, around a specific topic, like strategic planning, I might create my own hashtag like #MakePlansWork and hope that, over time, the hashtag becomes adopted and used by others (this is actually a hashtag I use). “MakePlansWorks” is not likely to be a commonly used word/phrase — like “marketing” — so using hashtags in this way makes sense to me.

Because this is an issue I’m curious about (and one that affects my own and my clients’ social media efforts) I’ve been doing quite a bit of research about it, including a look at some the Twitter streams of some widely recognized social media gurus—like David Meerman Scott and Guy Kawasaki. I wanted to see what kind of hashtags they’re using.

And guess what? I’m not even finding any hashtags on @GuyKawasaki’s account and @dmscott appears to be only using hashtags for unique combinations of letters and words.

But, maybe I’m missing something. What do you think? How are you using hashtags and do you feel their use provides you with value?

Recommended Reading:

Twitter for Dummies – Laura Fitton

Real-Time Marketing and PR – David Meerman Scott

Related Blog Posts:

Boosting the Power of Social Media: Taking Risks Without Getting Burned

Twitter Profile Best Practices

Connecting With Your Audiences Through Social Media

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