where a hashtag is used
how a hashtag can be used
when a hashtag should be used
why you should use hashtags
What Is A Hashtag?
In its purest essence, a hashtag consists of a hash or pound sign, if you'd rather, and a tagword(s) or label. When you combine those two together, you form an indexable call-to-action or a beacon of sorts.
Where Are Hashtags Used?
If you've ever Instagram'd, Tweet'd, Tumblr'd, YouTube'd, or Google Plus'd then you have probably seen more than a few of these "#" in your timeline. And, as of June 12, 2013, the hashtag became every bit the household name as the terms "tweet" or "likes" after Facebook decided to incorporate hashtags into its code.
Everyone from brand names to no-names will be including hashtags in most every post they publish. Hashtags are even located at the bottom corners of some of TV's more popular television programs. So if you haven't noticed them already, you probably are not surfing the same web as the rest of us, networkers. If you want to reach your customers, you have to be able to speak their language.
How Do Hashtags Work?
Way back in '88, the hashtag made its first appearance on an online discussion forum, Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Hashtags were basically used as a way to group messages, images, video, and other content into easily searchable threads. Fastforward to the present day and the hashtag is essentially the same. Only now, the hashtag transcended the deserted channels of IRC and became mainstream when it was officially adopted by Twitter in 2009.
Now, hashtags can be used for any number of ways:
as a means to include your message into a specific conversation grouping i.e. the tweet below. The "#F1" hashtag automatically lumps the tweet into any conversation relevant to F1, Formula One racing.
for emphasis, reinforce the tone of your message by literally spelling it out i.e. "I just ate 5 baconators! #heartburncity." Whether or not your are familiar with what a baconator is, the jist of the message is revealed with the hashtag at the end.
establish a call-to-action and instruct your audience to use a particular hashtag of your choosing. This tactic is used to steer conversations. It takes a considerable amount of social networking muscle to pull, but done successfully, holding an audience's attention only strengthens their loyalty.
When Should Hashtags Be Used?
Hashtags should only be used where applicable. Not all conversations are allowed to be indexable by search so that means don't bother including hashtags in emails, instant messages, or texts.
Most every social network worth its mettle has implemented hashtags, some have been at it longer than others so the user base tends to be more web-savvy. As a brand trying to make a name for itself, looking amateurish with web tools is not an option. Below is a list of the social network heavies that have incorporated hashtags into their conversations:
Twitter: With a cap of 140 characters, hashtags are often a hybrid of all three of the above uses of hashes. Twitter was also the first major social networking platform to integrate "trending topics" onto its dashboard, which means the user base is all to familiar with the hashtag.
Instagram: Implemented mostly for the sake of indexing photos into searchable categories, hashtags are also often used for emphasis.
Google Plus: It's the one social network whose boundless potential lies in the fact that it is backed by the world's deepest and most used search engine. Google Plus has indexed hashtags since day one along with their own section for trending topics. Users even have the option of subscribing to certain hashtags as part of their daily newsfeed.
Facebook: Ever since Facebook went public, the social network has systematically eased the slack on their privacy policies. For better or worse, hashtags will only add a new element to conversations on the world's most popular social network.
Why Should You Use Hashtags?
The very essence of social networking is conversation. Whether you aim to be the grand puba heading the meeting or just an expert in the crowd, hashtags, when used tactfully, are a valuable communication tool. Dental practices should focus on being an experts in the crowd weaving seamlessly from one relevant conversation to the next. So how do you know which conversations to chime in on? That's entirely up to you; however, I'd strongly advise you pick conversations that are relevant to you, the practice. How do I find these conversations? Hashtags, of course!
As I mentioned earlier, hashtags can be used to group conversations containing a certain keyword or keywords and rendering it indexable and searchable. At the top of your Twitter.com web page, there is a search field. Enter any hashtag or even word and the Twitter search engine will deliver every single relevant conversation. I recommend using a third party app like Hootsuite that allows you to create feeds dedicated to listing any mention the keywords/hashtags of your choosing. You essentially have an ear to the street. Chime in whenever your expertise is needed and eventually establish yourself as someone to go to for dental related matters.
Being that this is a dental blog, I will give you a few popular hashtags you can start with:
Hashtags can also be used as a branding tool. Use a certain string of words often enough and it could catch on eventually and go viral (#ThankYouSirAlex, anyone?!), but that's much further down the line. Learn the fundamentals; build that social media brawn; then weild the hashtag like a bannerman.