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.

Show Up in Google Search Results with an eBusiness Card

Business cards are the traditional way to spread your name throughout the business world, but times are changing.  Printed business cards can only be useful in face-to-face environments, and they have zero connection to the source most people use to search for businesses: Google. Of course, you can put your URL on the card, but what if someone you spoke with remembers your name, but not your specific business website?  EarthLink is here to help!

Using EarthLink’s eBiz Card, you can easily show up in Google search results. Your “card” establishes a search engine presence centered around your name, which can generate relevant business inquiries. Generate more call and website traffic and make it easy for prospects to find, contact and buy from you!

Here’s how it works:

When a prospect uses google to search for your name, your “eBusiness card” appears as a sponsored link in the Google search results (just like the graphic above!).  They will see you at the top of the results, along with the message you include “on your card” (which is actually a powerful Google ad).  Your Google ad can include a brief description of your services as well as a link to your business website (need help getting a website?  Click here). You can also include your phone number to make it easy for prospects to call you.

Why would you not want to have a sponsored ad promoting yourself on Google?  Get your eBusines card today!  (You can also call us to find out more: 1-800-201-8615)

Google Announcing New Products at I/O Conference

Google 2013 developer conference - new google productsThe biggest Internet news of the week is coming from Google, which just yesterday kicked off its 6th annual Google I/O developer conference.

The conference, which over 6,000 developers are attending at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, is still going on right now and will conclude tomorrow. But there has been quite a lot of buzz about what Google has already announced.

Here’s a rundown of the biggest announcements from the Google I/O developer conference so far:

  • Google Play Music All Access: This is a new, unlimited streaming music/Internet radio subscription service. It offers access to millions of tracks, playlists and suggestions based on music you already own and like, and let you customize a streaming radio station based on specific songs or artists (a la Pandora). You can stream music on Web or Android phones and tablets. The service will cost $9.99 a month, but if you sign up for a free 30-day trial before June 30th, you’ll pay only $7.99 a month. CNET has a review of the new All Access service. Or visit Google Play Music.
  • Google Play social gaming: Google is launching a new platform that will allow game developers to build in more social gaming aspects as well as take advantage of Google’s cloud storage capabilities, so you could play and pause a game on Android devices, iOS decices, PCs or Macs. See the Wall Street Journal for a review.
  • Google Maps: The popular map and direction service has been totally rebuilt. The next generation of Google Maps offers a more full-screen, less cluttered view with a search box built into the map itself. You’ll get a lot more options with your map searches: more local points of interest, more business information, street view and satellite imagery options, photo tours, and more. You’ll likewise get more options for directions: car, public transportation, walking, biking, flying. The new maps is available for the Web, on Android devices, or iPhone. Google has a preview of the new Maps and links to downloads here.
  • Google Search: Google previewed its work on conversational search. When it launches, you’ll be able to say “OK, Google, will it be raining this weekend in Central Park?” and get your answer spoken back to you. You can then ask follow-up questions. Google also announced improvements to its Knowledge Graph, to answer factual questions more precisely and fully. And Google Now updates offer reminders based on time and your current location. See Google’s Inside Search blog for more details.
  • Google Hangouts: Google launched a new Hangouts chat, video chat and unified messaging app that works across platforms. You can use it to text, send photos, or have a group video conference; SMS integration is reportedly coming soon (but not for iOS). The new Hangouts replaces Google Talk and G+ Messenger. It’s now available on Android, iOS, Chrome and Gmail. Read a review of Hangouts on Techcrunch.
  • Google+: The social network site has been redesigned to work better across platforms (Web and mobile devices). Google+ Photos also features a number of important updates: Auto Backup, Auto Highlight, Auto Enhance, and the more-awesomely named Auto Awesome. Google has an overview of G+ changes here.

That’s not all. Watch for more updates on Google’s Official Blog.

You can also keep up-to-the-minute on Google announcements and even watch live streaming video of the ongoing developers conference here.

Google Reader RIP, MyEarthLink MVP?

Google Reader shutting down.Google Reader is shutting down on July 1.

That’s what I found out (via a pop-up) yesterday when I went to visit Google Reader to research Internet news storied for this blog post.

Because it has been my go-to site for Internet news stories, Google Reader was one of the tabs I set up to automatically open when I start my web browser (the myEarthLink Start Page® and EarthLink Web Mail open in two other tabs).

So it will be missed. But, as we reported last July, Google has been steadily shutting down services for some time now.

What should you do if you’re a Google Reader … reader? We’ll, if you are an EarthLink Internet access subscriber, myEarthLink is a good place to start.

You can very easily customize the page to get local news, business news, technology news, sports, health, political – up to 12 news categories in all. Just make sure you are signed in (with your full EarthLink email address and password), and click the Edit links next to the Local and News Headline sections.

You’ll also have easy access to lots of other customizable content (weather, TV & movie listings, stock quotes, sports scores, etc.) while you’re checking your news. So it’s definitely worth a try. It could turn out to be your MVP (most valuable product).

But as convenient as it is, myEarthLink is not a full RSS reader like Google Reader, so it isn’t a direct replacement if that’s what you are looking for.

There’s buzz today that Digg is working on a replacement for Google Reader. But there are plenty of other ways to do RSS right now.

Feedly is a popular one. It’s available as a browser add-on (for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari) as well as an app for both Android and iOS. They’ve been kind smart enough to provide these Tips for Google Reader users migrating to feedly.

NewsBlur is another that has earned high praise, but it appears the rush of traffic is making their website unavailable today (they must not use EarthLink Business Cloud Hosting), so I won’t link you there now.

Mashable.com has a slide-show with other Google Reader Alternatives.

I have personally enjoyed using Google Currents on all my mobile devices (Android and iOS).

Let us know what your favorite Google Reader alternative is by leaving a comment below.