How to hashtag on Twitter

Yesterday, I assisted an amazing entrepreneur in a real-time Twitter exercise (we communicated via Twitter, of course) — how and why to hashtag.

She was embarrassed that people kept talking about Twitter hashtags and that she didn’t know anything about them. Nothing to be embarrassed about! People tend to get so mired in their activities and online communities, they forget that others might be new to the “tribe” and just plow through assuming everyone knows the terminology.

Back to basics, here’s how (and why) to use a hashtag on Twitter:

* Determine why you’re using a hashtag. Do you want to tag each tweet to track a conversation later? Do you want to use tagged tweets to “brand” your messages? Hashtags are used to organize a conversation or multiple conversations. Often, at conferences, the organizers will announce the event’s hashtag. When you tweet during the conference, using the designated hashtag, you and everyone else can keep track of what’s being said at and about the event. Simply type the hashtag into the Twitter search box and you can go read through event highlights (almost like notes) later. Adding a hashtag is also a great way to brand your messages and identify a conversation with your business (or conference or brand).

* If you don’t need to track the conversation or don’t have a noteworthy reason to brand your message, DO NOT use a hashtag. They can be overused, bog down the conversation with unnecessary information and people will begin to ignore them.

* If you’d like to use a Twitter hashtag, make sure you’re not co-opting someone else’s conversation. Choose a tag and type it (ex. #YourTag) into the Twitter search box. If a conversation comes up, find a new tag. Keep it short so it doesn’t cut into your 140 character limit too much. Keep it relevant to your brand (or yourself) and the conversation.

* Once you’ve found a tag that works for you, let the people you’re conversing with know what it is. “The hashtag for this chat is #MyOnlineChat Make sure to use it every time you tweet.”

* If you want to track the conversation, you have to use the hashtag every time you tweet.

Done. It’s that easy. 

If you’re interested in a real-time Twitter lesson, let me know. The best way to learn how to swim is to jump right into the pool.

How do you use Twitter hashtags? Any innovative ideas?