The hash (#) symbol has served many purposes, but using hashtags for business is the newest way to boost a company’s influence and reach.

The hashtag we all know and love has had a few different lives. Before it was the hashtag, it was called a “pound sign.” The # symbol has been used to abbreviate weights, it was added to the telephone keypad to send instructions to the operating system, and it’s a sharp symbol on sheet music.

So, when did hashtags first make an appearance in our vocabulary? And how did using hashtags for business become so popular? Let’s start at the beginning.

Hashtags: A brief #HistoryLesson

Chris Messina, a Silicon Valley techie, was an early adopter when Twitter hit the social media scene. He loved the platform but felt like it was very disorganized. There were a lot of great ideas floating around on Twitter, but it was difficult to find them and participate in the discussion.

Why Using Hashtags for Business is So ImportantMessina’s idea for the hashtag came from his experience with Internet chat rooms—users would put a pound sign before specific topics. He got a few of his friends to try it out on Twitter, but it really caught on in October 2007 when one pal used #sandiegofire to tweet about a San Diego wildfire.

By 2009, Twitter realized Messina was on to something and added the hashtag search option. From there, the hashtag has become an international superstar and using hashtags for business became a natural extension of the symbol’s purpose.

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The benefits of using hashtags for business marketing efforts

How did hashtags go from #sandiegofire to an essential part of a company’s social strategy? Because businesses began to realize the many benefits of leveraging hashtagged content. You can find hashtags across the majority of social platforms now, but many companies choose to focus on Twitter and Instagram where hashtagging is common practice.

In one study on the subject, researchers found that Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6% more engagement than those without. Using hashtags for business can result in a variety of other benefits, too. Depending on what a company is aiming for, hashtags can help you:

  • Expand your reach
  • Build community
  • Get found by your target audience
  • Increase credibility
  • Create brand awareness
  • Monitor competitors

Hashtags are also popular with businesses because they give companies a relatively easy way to track their efforts. There are even tools, like RiteTag, that can help you come up with relevant hashtags and access analytics on the ones you use.

The do’s and don’ts of using hashtags for business

Why Using Hashtags for Business is So ImportantWhether you’re just beginning to consider using hashtags for business purposes, or you think you’re an old pro, be sure you’re following the rules of the social media road before you use that #hashtag with reckless abandon:

Do: Research popular hashtags in your industry and what your competitors are using.
Don’t: Randomly add a # in front of words you like and “think” will be relevant to your target audience and industry.

Do: Be specific and keep your branded hashtags short and sweet. No one is going to use your hashtag if it’s too long to remember it.
Don’t: #MakeAReallyLongHashtagThatNoOneCanRemember.

Do: Come up with a few catchy hashtags — and then do your homework. Dedicate a large chunk of time to ensuring your hashtag isn’t being used by another company or for another purpose (especially an embarrassing purpose you didn’t know about).
Don’t: Create a catchy hashtag for your big marketing campaign and start using it right away.

Why Using Hashtags for Business is So ImportantDo: Research popular hashtags by platform and also how many hashtags are appropriate. For example, on Twitter, Tweets with one or two hashtags have 21% higher engagement than those with three or more. However, on Instagram, the optimal number of hashtags hovers around nine.
Don’t: Brainstorm a bunch of hashtags you think will work with a post, and then use them randomly across all different social platforms.

Do: Take the time to come up with a great hashtag and then create a rollout plan. Most people need a reason to use your branded hashtag—like a prize, or recognition from your page. Figure out what your hashtag goals are and how you’re going to communicate them to social followers.
Don’t: Take the time to come up with a great hashtag and then expect your followers and customers to immediately adopt it and understand its purpose.

When you’re using hashtags for business, it’s important to take your strategy seriously. Hashtags aren’t just a fun, kitschy concept that “don’t really matter that much.” If leveraged correctly, hashtags have real potential to boost your brand, create awareness, and increase your social reach.

Start building your social wall today. Post announcements—either manually or on a schedule you define—and keep your team up to date on things happening at your company.