Hashtags? What’s a Hashtag?

hashtagsOn our recent summer vacation, my wife and her aunt were comparing notes about the social media they use and don’t use. Then all of a sudden the conversation got heated. The reason? Hashtags.

They both said they were constantly hearing about hashtags but they had no idea what they were or how to use them. And it was seriously bugging them.

Hashtags really are everywhere these days. Hashtag was even chosen “Word of the Year” by the American Dialect Society in 2012.

(On the flip side, hashtag was one of the English words banned by the French government’s Academie Francaise.)

Whether you use social media simply to be social – to keep up with friends, post pictures, etc. – or to help market your business and engage your customer base, you’ll get more out of your experience if you know what a hashtag is and know how to properly use them. The good news: it’s quite simple.

How to Create a Hashtag

There are only two requirements for all hashtags:

  1. They start with this symbol: # (it’s the number or pound sign that’s above the 3 on your computer keyboard).
  2. They have no spaces at all in them. So, for example, #EarthLinkBusiness or #ITservices are valid hashtags, but # EarthLinkBusiness, #EarthLink Business, # ITservices or #IT services are not because of the spaces.

Hashtags can be a single word, multiple words, numbers, or words and numbers as long as they start with the # sign and have no spaces.

What are Hashtags For?

The most basic function of hashtags is to help categorize, organize, and connect with content. They were popularized on Twitter because they helped those tweeting reach a wider audience interested in their topics.

If I tweeted about a new cloud hosting service offered by EarthLink Business I’d probably add a #CloudHosting hashtag (and probably also #CloudComputing) to help categorize the tweet.

They are also sometimes used to specify a location. If, for example, I tweet a picture I’ve taken, I may add a hashtag for the location.

On Twitter, if you click on a hashtag or search for a hashtag, you’ll see all the recent tweets using that hashtag. For that reason, they can really help you find information and spread information about any topic.

They are also used to for events such as conventions, webinars, classes, online chats, Q&A sessions and other group discussions. Typically the event organizer or leader will create an official event hashtag; then all attendees can follow that hashtag to keep up with event information and discuss the event’s topic with each other. Even those not at the event can follow along this way.

Businesses are now often using hashtags for online promotions and contests. You may, for example, be asked to include the hashtag for a contest on Twitter to enter.

Hashtag Tips

  • How long? There is technically no character limit on a hashtag, but if you are using a hashtag on a social network like Twitter, the characters in the hashtag count towards the overall 140 character limit. So if you had a 120-character hashtag, you’d only have 20 left over for your post. It’s recommended that you keep your hashtags as short as possible.
  • How many? Similarly, there isn’t a rule about how many hashtags you can use in one Twitter post, but you should be mindful not to overuse them. On the one hand, research has shown that tweets that include hashtags typically get 2x the engagement compared to tweets without hashtags. But tweets with more than two hashtags show a 17% drop in engagement. So, try to limit your hashtags to one or two.
  • Where to put them? You can add a hashtag anywhere within a tweet – beginning, middle or end – but it’s most common to see them at the end.
  • Where to use them? Twitter is ground zero for hashtags, but they are now also used on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumbler, Pinterest and Vine. Click the following links for hashtag help from Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
  • Capitalization or not? Capitalization doesn’t matter for hashtags. #EarthLinkBusiness and #earthlinkbusiness are considered the exact same hashtag. When using a multi-word hashtag, capitalization can help the readability (and therefore shareability) of the hashtag. So, when tweeting about our EarthLink Business SIP Trunking phone service, for example, we would typically format the hashtag as #SIPTrunking  vs. #siptrunking.
  • Stay relevant! Make sure your hashtags relate to your posts. If not, it’s seen as a form of spam. Don’t drop a hashtag into your post because it’s popular unless it is relevant.
  • Don’t use for emphasis. This really is part of our advice to stay relevant but I’ll call it out separately because what makes hashtags confusing for many is the way some people are using them: to #make #a #point or #SHOUT. At their most confusing, hashtags are used almost like ALL CAPS or bold or italics to emphasize some random words within the post.
  • Test them. One way decide if a hashtag is a good one for your topic is to search for those hashtags and see what content comes up. If it’s totally random stuff or off topic from what you thought, it may not be a good hashtag for you. It is especially important to test event or contest related hashtags to make sure they are unique to your event. Otherwise, your event participants could be totally confused by unrelated posts.

New Facebook Search – Time to Check Your Privacy Settings?

Way back in January, we posted about Facebook’s announcement of a coming new search engine they were calling Graph Search.

Well, it’s finally here.

Click here to see Facebook’s official Introduction to Graph Search. It’s a nice-looking overview, and if for some reason the new search isn’t active on your Facebook page yet, you can click the Try Graph Search button at the bottom of the page to activate it.

Privacy Shortcut menu on Facebook

But before you go play around with Facebook’s new Graph Search engine, you might first want to review your own Facebook presence and change some of your privacy settings.

Why? Because the new Facebook search indexes your public posts, your likes, your photos, all your interests and other data you’ve shared on Facebook – and it makes all your information as easy as possible for everyone else on Facebook to find.

So, if you don’t want your boss, your ex-wife, your neighbor, or anyone else – even if they are not your friends – to have access to all your Facebook information, you should take some time to review your Facebook account and your privacy settings. Here’s how to do it:

Reviewing & Changing Your Facebook Privacy Settings

  1. Sign in to Facebook.
  2. ClicFacebook Privacy Shortcut iconk the lock icon at the top of your page (show to the right) to open your Privacy Shortcuts menu (shown above).
  3. Click Who can see my stuff? to open some privacy options.
  4. Click the first option if you want to change who can see your future posts (Friends, Close Friends, Public, etc.).
  5. Click the next Privacy Shortcut option (Use Activity Log) if you want to go back and review the visibility of all of your past Facebook activity (old posts, comments, photos, likes, etc.). This is where you can make individual changes and delete items you don’t want to show up in future searches. Click the pencil icon to “unlike” previous likes (of photos, posts, businesses, etc.) or to delete posts and photos, or change the timeline status of previous posts. Click the people icon next to any post for which you want to change the audience, for example, from Public to Friends. On the left side of this Activity Log page you can also click Photos to manage who can see photos you’ve uploaded or been tagged in. If you don’t want people to find photos of you that your friends have tagged, you can untag yourself.
  6. The next option in your Privacy Shortcuts is called View As. Click that link if you want to see what other people see on your timeline. You can see what your Facebook page looks like to the Public (people you don’t know) or specific people.
  7. To change who can see what on your page, click the Update Info button on your Cover image (you can also click the About link). You can then go section by section down your page to specify who gets to see this information. Below your personal information, you’ll see sections like Music, Movies, Books, etc. Click the pencil icon to hide any of these sections or to change your privacy settings for the section. Your choices here will affect what of yours comes up in other people’s Graph Searches, like People who like Comic Books.
  8. If you want to quickly limit who can see all of your past posts, rather than change the settings one by one on the Activity Log page, click the gear icon in the upper right and choose Privacy Settings from the menu. On this Privacy Settings and Tools page, click the Limit Past Posts link if you want to change all the past content that you’ve shared to the Friends setting. Your Activity Log lets do this for individual posts, which gives you more control, but it takes more time. This option lets you do it all in one click (really two, since they warn you and make you click again).

Facebook has some handy videos and other information explaining some of these search privacy issues.

Social Media Made Simple with EarthLink Web Hosting

social media integration with SocialStream and EarthLink Web HostingWhether you have a large, multi-location business, a small local retail store, or you’re an individual service provider like a lawyer or accountant, you should at least be experimenting with social media.

Social media can be a great way for all kinds of businesses to connect with and engage customers and potential customers, to showcase your brand (even if it’s just your personal brand), to promote loyalty, and to distribute promotions. Along with your company website, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn offer you an additional online channel promote your business. But managing your business’s social media for multiple social networks can be a lot of work to keep up with.

The good news if you’re an EarthLink Web Hosting customer is that all of our hosting and ecommerce plans include a free tool, called SocialStream, to help simplify and streamline the process of managing your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn social networks from one easy-to-use social media dashboard.

How to Set Up SocialStream

  1. Sign into your Web Hosting Control Center at https://control.earthlink.net with your web hosting domain name, username and password.
  2. From the Build tab, click on the SocialStream icon.
  3. Click the Social Networks link.
  4. Click the Connect button for each of the social networks you want to connect to your web hosting account (you will need to have signed up for the social networks first). If you ever want to disconnect a network, simply come back to this page and click Disconnect.connect social media accounts to web hosting account
  5. A new window will pop up for each network you select, asking you to allow Social Media Tracker to access your account. Click Authorize or Okay. (You may also need to sign in at the same time if you are not already signed in to the service.)

How to Post to Multiple Social Networks

  1. If you are already in SocialStream, click the Communicate tab at the top of the page. If not, sign back into your Web Hosting Control Center and click the SocialStream icon and then the Communicate link.
  2. Simply enter your post in the Add New Comment box (following the appropriate limits, such as 140 characters), select which networks you want to post to (or click the Select All button to post to all of them), and click Post Status.
  3. You will see a confirmation message indicating your post was successful.

How to Track Your Social Media Posts

After you’ve started posting to your social networks, you’ll probably want to keep track of how they are working. SocialStream makes that simple, too.

  1. If you are already in SocialStream, click the History tab at the top of the page. If not, sign back into your Web Hosting Control Center and click the SocialStream icon and then the History link.
  2. Click the Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook icons to see information for one network at a time or click Show All.
  3. You’ll see Posts, No. of Replies, Likes and the Time of the post. The most recent posts are on top.
  4. Click the Follower Posts tab to see the users who are following your posts on your social networks and any replies to your posts.

Let us know how social media working for your business by leaving a comment below. Good luck!