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If you look around social media, you will find any number of hashtags. The # symbol is placed in front of a word (or words) to group that post with other similar posts on the same topic.

Using a hashtag is not just a way to keep things organized; it can also be used as a marketing tool for your business.

Hashtag history

Former Google developer Chris Messina is credited with being the first person to suggest the use of the pound sign as a way to create groups within Twitter in 2007. Another techie, Stowe Boyd, suggested calling it a hashtag.

Today, the hashtag is considered one of the most powerful tools to include in social media posts. It helps drive brand recognition and can boost customer loyalty.

Start simply

An easy first step for using hashtags is to create something specific to your business. In an effort not to duplicate what others are using, do a quick search on Twitter for your hashtag ideas. It is important to keep your hashtag short and make it easy to understand and spell so people remember it and use it correctly. For example, a local diner might consider #donsdiner or a veterinary hospital might consider #bestpetcare.

Once you find your word or phrase, include it in your social media posts. Be consistent and use it across all social media. Your hashtag should be the same on Twitter as it is on Instagram, Facebook or other social media. In addition to what you post, be sure to follow your hashtag to see what other users are sharing or saying about you and your company.

Get in with the group

In addition to unique hashtags you create, it is important to use hashtags that influencers use when you post to social media. Follow what is trending on Twitter to see if a hashtag there can be applied to your business. If you use a trending hashtag appropriately in your posts, you can connect with customers in real time. This can vastly expand your viral reach, especially if you are able to work your way into large events, such as the Super Bowl or the Oscars by using hashtags that are relevant to you and such an event. For example, a carpet cleaning company may take advantage of the trend and tweet: Our service helps keep your living room carpets as elegant as #RedCarpet at #Oscars2016. A business consultant might tweet: Watching #SuperBowl 2016? I can help align your company’s #team.

While this is a great way to get attention during events that charge large sums for ads, you cannot get carried away. Posting to too many trends, especially when they are not related to your business, is considered spamming. Spamming trends on Twitter can lead to account suspension.

Identify top hashtags

Use a tool such as Hashtagify.me to help you identifying top hashtags used for a variety of businesses and industries. You will find a number of relevant hashtags you may not have previously considered. For example, small businesses owners should not forget about vital hashtags such as #smallbiz, #smallbusiness and #ShopLocal.

Using these hashtags will provide you great exposure that will help people discover your business, connect with you and share your information with others.

But don’t go hashtag crazy. Make sure your hashtags are most relevant to your overall strategy. Then, follow the best practices of Twitter and use no more than two hashtags per tweet. Remember, overusing a hashtag devalues its strength.

Making hashtags work for you

When you use your hashtags within other marketing materials such as magazine ads, in-store signage or television commercials, you provide a call to action for those who see it. Create a campaign and invite people to engage with you with a hashtag. Encourage your customers to participate further by asking them to insert your hashtag into their posts and add it to their content.

Many businesses find success when tying hashtags to engagement requests such as becoming a fan of their social media page, signing up for a newsletter or participating in a contest. The hashtag can help you gather sales prospects who you can later engage with additional content.

Become a thought leader through social media by tagging content that is relevant to your target audience. Participating in #MotivationMonday, for example, is one way your words can help solve problems for your customers. Another way to become a source for your customers is to tweet names of other Twitter users you feel are important to follow. Use the hashtag #FF or #FollowFriday every Friday.

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