It’s a question that pops up in most meetings about social media from slightly embarrassed clients – “What actually are hashtags and how can I use them to benefit my business?” Although hashtags seem to be everywhere nowadays, from your Facebook newsfeed to football matches to front page news, it’s not a stupid question. So many businesses still don’t know how to use hashtags effectively as opposed to ironically (#imeanmostpeopleareliketotallyjokingwhentheyusethem).

Using hashtags on Twitter is a simple way of getting your tweets in front of different audiences and joining bigger conversations about topics that are relevant to your audiences. They might be about things that are trending globally or an event that is happening locally but either way, they offer an opportunity to reach people that aren’t already following you by sharing content that is relevant to something they’re searching for. Hashtags are also an excellent research tool – by searching for a hashtag about something that’s trending, you can identify all sorts of relevant people that you would have otherwise not come across.

Here are three uses for hashtags that businesses can benefit from:

Awareness days/weeks/months

When we start working with any client, we always create a content calendar of key dates that are relevant to their sector/target audiences. Whether it’s #MothersDay #NationalGardeningWeek or the General Election (#GE2015), we make sure that we know what’s coming up which their audiences are likely to be talking about and find out what hashtag everyone is using to talk about it. Planning in advance also means that we can prepare high quality blog content on the topic which showcases what the client has to offer and uses the awareness day/week/month as a new opportunity to talk about it.

Events and conferences

Whether it’s the Great Yorkshire Show (#GYS2015), the #BuyYorkshire conference or a music festival like #Glasto, every major (and even most small) event has a hashtag that the organisers use to pull together online conversations about it. Those who are attending – or those who can’t make it but are interested in following what’s going on – are encouraged to use the hashtag in all their tweets about it in the lead up, during and after the event so that any search for the hashtag will throw up a list of every tweet about all in one place. That’s why you now see big screens up at events with ‘live tweets’ using the hashtag scrolling on it. If you’ve ever tried to claim your two seconds of fame by getting up on the big screen and failed, it’s because you’re not using the specific hashtag in question. It can’t be a variation on the one that organisers are pushing otherwise it won’t appear either on the big screen at the event or on people’s Twitter feeds who are following what’s going on. The beauty of event hashtags is that you can gain much greater visibility for your business and engage with attendees before the event even starts.

Twitter networking hours

There are now hundreds of Twitter networking hours from international sector debates to local village get togethers but the concept was actually the brain child of the hosts of #yorkshirehour, which takes place every Wednesday between 8 and 9pm. They realised that if a hashtag could be clicked on and all tweet containing that hashtag were then aggregated into one rolling list, that if you got people to all share tweets on a particular topic during a specific time slot using the hashtag, you could actually host a virtual networking event. Whatever industry or location you’re in, there will already be an existing Twitter networking hour set up that’s probably attended by people that you want to speak to on a weekly basis. If not, why not set one up?! But remember that hashtags which are already well used and have a captive audience will give you much more visibility than just randomly #makingupyourown.

Sometimes, the hardest part is finding a trending hashtag that already has a captive audience. So we’re going to let you in on a little secret. ‘Hashtagify’ is a clever little tool that you pop a key word into, and it will throw out a few of the top trending hashtags based upon your suggestion.  Have a play around with it and see what trending topics you can find, you might be surprised how many people there are having conversations that you could tap into

Interiors hashtag