You have to take your hat off toTwitter, taking a simple idea like status updates in 140 characters and turning it into a global phenomenon, probably had thousands of us screaming ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ But even though the idea is simplicity itself, one thing that does have people confused, especially when it comes to social media marketing, is the use of the hashtag or #.

For many Twitter users adding a hashtag to their tweets has become the norm but what does it actually do and why do you need to understand the best way to use it?

For a start the hashtag is normally applied to a word or phrase often at the end of a tweet, for example ‘today we launched our new android mobile range #androidmobile’. In simple terms the hashtag is a means of connecting tweets that share the same or similar topic, so if you searched for anything with "#androidmobile" against it you would be returned with all tweets containing it.

You can enter search terms with or without using the hashtag. For instance, searches for ‘android mobile’ will return any tweet containing these words; searches for #androidmobile will only return tweets containing #androidmobile. Get it?

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#SocialMediaMarketing: A Guide To Using Twitter’s Hashtag

It is a simple enough premise. Essentially the hashtag enables tweets with a common theme to be found quickly and easily. Of course it does rely on other users applying the same hashtag term to their tweets before it can really go viral, but often, depending on the nature of a tweet, this isn’t a problem. Take the Japan earthquake for example, when one tweet was posted with #japanearthquake, it was quickly followed by more users adding the same to their tweets helping users find all related information faster. In this sense Twitter has been instrumental in spreading news of conflict and disaster across the world far quicker than other media channels.

What isn’t commonly known is that the hashtag feature is not an official Twitter function, they are simply what users add at the time of posting and anyone can add a hashtag for any subject. So you can see the use of the hashtag has the capability to allow any subject to grow organically whilst making it easier to find and track.

So what does this mean in terms of marketing and business promotion?

Essentially if you want to spread the word about anything using Twitter then you need to create a hashtag people can follow. Sounds simple enough but the twist comes when you consider that common words or phrases could already be in existence. A quick search should reveal what is already being used. Why is this important? Well you want to be creating a hashtag that is associated with you and not someone else.

Another point to consider is the 140 character limit, remember your hashtag is part of this count too, so try not to make it too long, but do make it clear and concise. You also do not have to place it at the end, it can appear anywhere within your tweet. Hashtags can be used for other purposes too such as tracking promotions, seeing what competitors are up to and to follow trends allowing you to react quickly to market changes and customer demand.

The power of Twitter is well documented but many businesses are only just beginning to scratch the surface of its potential. The humble hashtag should become your new best friend when it comes to marketing and promoting your business through this social media giant. #whatareyouwaitingfor?