Hashtags (#ThisIsAnExample) are a relatively new addition to social media. They were introduced first on Twitter in 2007 and eventually spread to other social media channels over the next few years.

The purpose of a hashtag marketing strategy is to group conversations within a certain topic or theme so people who share your interests can easily find and join in on them. They can also be used to attract attention to various pieces of content as well.

If you aren’t using hashtags as part of your content marketing strategy you are omitting a huge and very lucrative piece of the puzzle. If you’re sitting there confused or just wondering why this is such a big deal, read on. You are about to discover how hashtags came to be and how they have evolved into one of the most powerful tools in your overall marketing strategy.

Hashtags: The Backstory

In October 2007, the now infamous San Diego Fire was actually partially responsible for the rise of hashtags. Developed Chris Messina, the first widely-used hashtag appeared on Twitter on October 23, 2007. Nate Ritter used the hashtag #sandiegofire to provide real-time updates on Twitter about the fire. It would be more than a year and a half later, though, before the use of hashtags would become the norm.

July 2, 2009 marked the day that Twitter officially began integrating hashtags and started hyperlinking them to search results. Tumblr became an early adopter, launching hashtags on their site on August 18, 2009. On March 30, 2010, Twitter launched a new home page with Trending Topics featured prominently and thus began the revolution of the Twitter marketing campaign using hashtags.

Since then, hashtags have been adopted on virtually all social media channels and are being used to promote all kinds of things, both online and offline. It took a while but Facebook finally adopted hashtags as of June 12, 2013 and this was the ace in the hole for marketers wanting to capitalize on their effectiveness.

Hashtags in Marketing

The world’s top brands have recognized and are utilizing hashtags in virtually all their social media efforts. In the fourth quarter of 2014, a staggering 97% of brands surveyed had posted at least one tweet containing a hashtag.

So what does this mean for you? What is the purpose of using hashtags as a marketing tool? Here is a brief list of things you can accomplish by starting to use hashtags in your social media posts today:

#1: Drive More Engagement

The most successful companies out there have discovered that hashtags help drive engagement with their content. When compared to tweets that don’t feature a hashtag, tweets that did showed an increase in engagement (retweets, favorites, or @ replies) of 12 percent or better. Tweets with both an external link and a hashtag showed the highest rate of engagement of any type.

#2: Test Your Messaging Strategy

Hashtags are also an effective way to determine the best way to present your message to your audience. They are a simple (and free) way to test engagement levels among the people who follow you on social media. Use a variety of hashtags and see what clicks (literally) with your audience. It can take a bit of time and patience but always seize opportunities to test out your hashtags. Don’t overuse them but do use them at every opportunity and track the results.

#3: Utilize Multiple Channels

Most social media networks have adopted hashtags so it makes sense to use them as a way to establish consistency with your message over a number of channels. Use a common identifier to build brand recognition and connect your message to the entire social web through an effective:

  • Twitter Marketing Campaign
  • Facebook Marketing campaign
  • Instagram marketing campaign
  • Hashtag campaign via other social media channels

#4: Tell a Story

There are fewer more engaging ways to hold your audience’s attention than with a good story. You can use a hashtag as a connector to multiple tweets that deal a progression of information. Tell your story 140 characters at a time and make the whole thing easy to find, then use hashtags along with external links to drive traffic to landing pages or other pieces of your own content around the web. Think your message warrants more detail? There are no restrictive character limits on Facebook so take your hashtag campaign. When you do, make sure you only cover one point at a time in your posts.

#5: Track Your Results

You can do this manually or use one of the huge selection of software solutions to do it for you. This is how you will discover what works and what doesn’t and you can tailor not just your hashtag campaign, but your entire content strategy to what your audience really wants.