(An excerpt from my #TwitterBook. The book is available at Amazon.com. — andreas)

Why use hashtags? By adding a hash mark, you mark the word, like using underline or bold. You use it to tell other people that the word is important.

Twitter made the hashtags clickable. When you see a hashtag, you click it and Twitter will show you more tweets with that hashtag. It’s the same as if you search for it. You’ll see all of the postings with that hashtag. This lets you follow the conversation and add to it.

For example, to see what people are saying about Miley Cyrus, search for #MileyCyrus. (By the way, upper case or lower case doesn’t matter, so you can use #MileyCyrus, #mileycyrus, #MiLeYcYrUs, or whatever.) Hashtags are written as one word. It’s #MileyCyrus, not #Miley Cyrus.

When you’ve settled on the hashtag, use it in your tweets. Put it in your webpages, website, emails, newsletters, business cards, advertising, T-shirts, TV ads, and digital advertising. Use it in your Google Adwords, both text ads and banner ads. Use it in Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, and other social platforms.

Hashtags, Discussions, Communities

In the beginning, the idea for social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook was to create networks of small groups of friends. This was based on ideas by Mark Granovetter, professor of sociology at Stanford, and others. So it made sense to see communication as something that happened within contact lists.

But Twitter also allows your posting to be seen by anyone. Absolutely anyone.

To most people, this is a bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion. Lots of tweets about celebrities, personal chit-chat, and some dog ’s lunch. This is why people look at Twitter and most never come back. And many keep using it but never figure out what’s going on.

To solve that mess, people began using hashtags. With search and hashtags, you suddenly see only the tweets for that topic.

  • Want to see what’s going on in NYC? Search for #NYCEvents. 227 tweets in the last 30 days.
  • What have people said about sushi in Seattle? Search #Seattle #Sushi. 35 in the last 30 days.
  • Wondering about that beach at Maui? #beach #maui. 587 tweets in the last 30 days, many with photos.
  • Earthquake in Sichuan? Get instant updates with #earthquake #Sichuan.
  • What’s going on at Oracle World conference? Go #OracleWorld
  • Is the SF commuter train late? #Caltrain for updates.
  • What are people saying about Kim during her TV show? #KimKardashian. Ridiculous tens of thousands.
  • Looking for a job in sales in Paris? Search #sales #job #Paris. 24 in the last 30 days.

Using hashtags is like focus: pick one thing and suddenly you see what’s relevant to it. For example, the various US political groups use hashtags so their conversations can be seen by their members. There is #TCOT (Top Conservatives on Twitter), #TDOT (Top Democrats on Twitter), #CCOT (Conservative Christians on Twitter), and so on. They can stay in touch and talk with each other by using their hashtags.

Hashtags come and go. Some stay in use for a long time. Others pop up, become wildly popular, and disappear within a few days. So look around and see what’s being used.

Hashtags and Dashboards

Your next big step is to use a dashboard. These let you create columns for each hashtag that you follow so you can see the tweets for each hashtag.

hootsuite

Hootsuite lets me follow hashtags. There’s a column for each hashtag, such as #PaloAlto and #OnlyInSiliconValley. I usually follow a few hashtags, plus hashtags for conferences, events, and so on which I add or remove as they come and go. The mobile version is pretty good.

You can set up columns for your organization, your products, and services. You can follow your school, your soccer team, or your town. Whatever interests you, set up a column. Find the hashtag and add it. You can arrange columns as you like.

The dashboards also let you send tweets, schedule tweets for later posting, search, and so on. You can also manage tweets as a team: someone on your team writes a tweet and it goes to you for approval. These dashboards also let you add postings from Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and other social sites.

If you’re using Twitter for work, it’s a good idea to put this on a separate screen so you can watch the columns. You can set up bell notifications to get your attention or just bug your co-workers.

There are several dashboards, such as Tweetdeck (owned by Twitter), Hootsuite, Radian6 (owned by Salesforce), Seesmic, and others. These have free versions for desktop, browser, tablets, and smart phones. Try them and see which one you like.

It’s pretty hard to look at Twitter without a dashboard.

Tools to Find Hashtags

Here are several useful hashtag tools.

hashtagify

Hashtagify.me shows you related discussions. For example, what’s the best hashtag for helicopters? Is it #helicopter, #copter, or #whirlybird? Go Hashtagify.me. Enter #helicopter and you’ll see related hashtags. You’ll see a word for helicopters that I didn’t include in my list. The size of the circle shows popularity; the thickness of the line shows traffic; and the closer the circle, the more relevant.

Topsy lets you compare trends for several hashtags. Use Topsy to see numbers and trends for the last 30 days. Look for relevant discussions with lots of traffic. Topsy was bought by Apple for $200m.

What to Tweet

Many of the experts in your field are on Twitter. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience to learn about your field:

  • Ask about your industry, products, tools, and services
  • Ask about organizations, conferences, and events in your field
  • Ask for the best books, websites, blogs, and other resources
  • Ask for tips and secrets
  • Ask for ideas to improve your product
  • Talk about tips, ideas, observations, discoveries
  • Keep up with your industry, politics, movements, events

A great way to find hashtags is to look at the messages by experts. If they’re active in discussions, they’re using hashtags. Look at the hashtags that they use.

Tips for Tweeting

Hire some staff to send your tweets. That’s how @MileyCyrus tweets every 42 seconds all day (and all night too.) Celebrities have a staff of two or three people to tweet. Companies often have several people as well. Cisco has more than 100 Twitter accounts.

You can use the schedule tools in HootSuite and TweetDeck to write ten or twenty tweets at once and then send them out over the week.

Get the Whole Book for Free

Want the rest of the book? Get my #TwitterBook at Amazon.com.