How Hashtags Enrich the Social Media Experience - One # at a Time!

By Stacey Ross

If I were to receive a #dollar for every time someone were to ask me what a #hashtag is for, well, come to think of it, I would keep looking for more people to explain its #value to! I share that while we typically “friend” or follow people online, we utilize hashtags to identify specific topics, which, in a #nutshell, helps us tune in to interesting conversations and build a more robust online platform.

Hashtag Fever!

On its blog, Facebook calls the hashtag feature the first step in “a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics,” and networks such as Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr are following suit. Facebook owns Instagram, so it will be fun to see more assigned hashtags integrated into the photo-sharing service over time.

Twitter, on the other hand, has been hashtagging (is that a word?) for about six years now. One of the most rewarding and educational online opportunities is the ability to participate in "Twitter parties" (where a hashtag is a must!), where you can find other like-minded people to chat with, earn prizes, and build a greater following and awareness.

Search topics using a hashtag

You might be interested an event or topic that is trending such as, say, #GoldenGlobes, where you can follow what people are saying. When I post fun meals, besides "checking in" on Foursquare, I like to challenge my friends to guess where I am via Instagram as well as Twitter, and often use the hashtag #itswhatsfordinner. When contests, campaigns and challenges, and media promos invite you to share photos, links and thoughts, you are collectively engaging in something that particularly appeals to you!

Katie Dillon, aka La Jolla Mom, is an avid traveler and shares some valuable tips for those who enjoy photo sharing via Instagram. Without needing to be too tech-savvy, you can enter after your photo or post tags such as #cooking, #sushi, #dinner.

Sponsors love seeing their brands show up, and when they see what you are already authentically posting, it is a win-win for both bloggers and brand enthusiasts.

Build followers, learn, and win great prizes!

Back to that "winning prizes" thing! Some online enthusiasts go batty with hashtags so as to gain more exposure, but there is also some strategy that comes into play. An avid Twitterer, I have participated as a co-host or host at online parties, to which invitees first RSVP in order to be eligible to win valuable prizes that are provided by the party sponsor. Typically, we work with one hashtag, generating one conversation over a full hour.

The hashtag #VZWBuzz , for example, invites people to participate in regular Twitter chats sponsored by Verizon Wireless. The hosts ask stimulating questions during the engaging chats and keep guests informed and updated with the latest tech advice and products!

Plan your calendar using hashtags

If you are planning on attending a conference, you will want to use the conference hashtag and include the hashtags for keynotes and break-out events or parties. You can follow the news about the overall event and also be a spectator or even a participant in a breakout session discussion! In such a case, you can use two or more hashtags.

When Blogher held a conference in San Diego, for example, it established a hashtag for every session and keynote, as well as the general conference hashtag #BlogHer11. How cool it was to experience what was going on in the session next door, when I was torn between which sessions to attend! Likewise, I was able to return to my room, catch up on what I had missed, and even check out videos because I could zero in on topics and discussions that peaked my interest.

Become virtually connected!

More than anything, I have felt inspired to be "in the room" and included in conversations regarding things that draw me in organically but, for whatever reason, I am unable attend in person. Whether I am chatting about a particular brand campaign, current event, new app or phone feature, or about a live media event, I have grown to appreciate the #hashtag and consider it a #fabulous #tool!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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