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May 15 2014
Happy #FF to You (What's a Hashtag?)

On Fridays, it's quite common to see tweets with the use of "#FF" which might appear to be a bunch of nonsense to anyone who is not active on social media. If you're not in the know, you might be wondering (and afraid to ask): what is #FF and what IS a hashtag?*

First of all, #FF means follow Friday. It's a hashtag that was coined early on in Twitter which users post on Fridays to encourage others to follow specific Twitter users. For example, I might post this:

By doing so, I'll be giving a shout-out to these individuals, which makes them feel good. I'm also encouraging anyone who reads the post to follow these Twitter users. 

So, What IS a hashtag? Well for starters, it's more than a pound sign.

A hashtag is a technique and action used by people on social media to categorize their social media posts. They do so to encourage those posts to be found by other users. Walsh social media instructor Erin Rawlings recently intended an Inforum Troy networking session where we were live tweeting using the hashtag #InforumTroy, and she explained that hashtags were like file folders in which posts are categorized together. 

A hashtag can help you to demonstrate your expertise and amplify your message beyond your followers. Consider these two posts:

  • You should consider an MBA from Walsh College. 
  • You should consider an #MBA from @WalshCollege

Both messages say the same thing. However, you may reach more people by including the hashtag. Why? Let's say I was considering pursuing an MBA and I wanted to see what others had to say about MBAs on Twitter. By finding and searching for the hashtag #MBA, I can see every recent post using this hashtag. I might find alumni, MBA students, colleges offering MBAs, articles about the value of an MBA, or even jobs requiring an MBA. Granted, not everyone is using hashtags, but then again, you're not reading this post because you're trying to reach everyone. You're reading this post because you want to be more effective on social media. 

The more you use hashtags, the more your network understands your area of expertise. What is your area of expertise? Leadership? Financial services? Professional coaching? Marketing? Public relations? Try this: post every day twice a day using hashtags of those specific areas. You'll soon notice that you're being retweeted by others using the same hashtag (bonus if you encourage retweets by adding "please RT" to your post). You might also notice that you're being added to lists created by other Twitter users. For example, based on my tweets which often contain hashtags, I've been added to these lists:

If you want to get a crash course in hashtags, jump on a hashtag during a major event. Pick an event. Any major event. Maybe it's a baseball game. Maybe it's the Oscars. Maybe it's your favorite TV show. There is probably a hashtag. Click on it to follow it, and you'll quickly learn how others are using hashtags. You'll also find people you might want to follow on Twitter. Some of them will then follow you. If you like what they tweet, retweet them. 


* I was asked this question today by a colleague who's active on Twitter for his business and still learning. I learned early on in my social media experience the importance of social media karma, and the importance of being a social media ambassador to help others. They, in turn, will eventually help you. I have to thank him for inspiring me to write this post tonight.



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