In last week’s post, I shared some tips on how to optimize your presence within Twitter. One of those suggestions was to use hashtags and, as promised, today I’m going to help you better understand what a hashtag is, and how to use it effectively for your business.

What is a hashtag, really?

Here’s how Twitter’s help page defines “hashtag”: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

Businesses can use hashtags to:

  • Get found
  • Share messages
  • Promote their business and industry news
  • Research industry trends
  • Research the competition
  • Generate buzz to build expert status
  • Generate buzz to build brand identity

When used correctly, hashtags can be a business’s best friend and help you move ahead of your competition in Twitter. What can you do to get the most out of using hashtags? 1. Learn everything you can about using hashtags. Use Twitter resources to help you understand hashtags and what to do and not do when using them. Refer to the Twitter Fan Wiki page for best practices around using hashtags, and check out Twitter’s help center for more great information about putting hashtags to use for your business.

2. Research which keywords are being used to search for your type of business. Use to identify current hashtag trends within Twitter, and to determine if the hashtags you’ve chosen are being used for search within Twitter.

3. Make sure your Twitter account is public. If you have an account marked as private, then only your followers can find you if they search on a keyword you’re using with a hashtag. But if you have a public account, then anyone can find you.

On a final note, when using hashtags, it’s poor etiquette to overdo it, so stick the rule of no more than three hashtags per tweet. You also don’t want to turn-off or confuse users by including irrelevant hashtags within your content.

—Chris Marentis is founder and CEO of Surefire Social, a local Internet marketing company.