Many social media sites like Twitter and Instagram make use of the hashtag in order to connect users. Posts include a tag that uses the hash sign (#), and a keyword (for example, #marketing) – this helps organize posts for users. You can now search for the word ‘marketing’ to find a post with the #marketing hashtag, or you can click on the hashtag to find other posts with the same tag.

This is not an especially new method of social connection. Twitter has been using the hashtag now since 2007. Trends are often determined simply by the hashtags being used the most. Hashtags are no longer Twitter exclusive, however. Other sites like Pinterest and Google+ have gotten on board, and rumor is that Facebook (which acquired the hashtag using Instagram last year) will be jumping on the bandwagon soon too. So how do you use hashtags correctly? Here are some basic guidelines.

If you get involved with a community, use hashtags that others in that community use to connect with each other. For example, writers should be using the #amwriting hashtag. The writing community uses this to connect with fellow authors, and publishers look for this tag too.

Hashtags are also a great way to get responses – Fiverr.com recently encouraged their users to post pictures of their workspace to Instagram, and to use the tag #hifiverr. This allowed the staff to easily find all of the pictures and repost their favorites.

Don’t put a hashtag on #every #single #word in your messages – this can just become annoying, and it doesn’t really accomplish anything! Also, don’t #hashtaganentirerandomphrase. As a general rule, no one will ever search for that term. If you are the only person on the planet who uses that hashtag, it will make it virtually impossible to find. Phrases are OK, but they have to be ones that are already commonly tagged.

Punctuation breaks up a tag! #Don’t will just show up as #Don with an apostrophe and the letter ‘t’ after it. Keep that in mind when tagging a phrase like #dontstopmenow (an unlikely tag to use, unless you were actually referring to the Queen song for some reason).

Hashtags are a great way to meet new followers and get involved in conversations – just remember, the key is to use them effectively to meet people who are actually interested in your business, and find conversations that are relevant to your industry.