A few days ago I headed out on my usual early morning journey to the gym.

My companion for this relatively short trip was Nick Grimshaw (Grimmy) from Radio 1’s breakfast show. He was talking about one of his pet hates – the hashtag.

I nodded silently as he ranted about how he was fed up with people that overused it with pointless tags such as #truelove #bestboyfriendever and the particularly annoying #justsaying.

It is true, social media is rife with them and I’ve even seen tweets that are just full of hashtags.

But it got me thinking.

Yes, they are overused in social media, but equally, the hashtag can be a really useful tool for businesses using Twitter as part of their marketing strategy.

How to use the hashtag without being annoying

In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I’ll go back to basics.

The hashtag (#) precedes a word or phrase. In the business world this is a useful tool because it allows you to categorise your tweets and it can be used as a marketing tactic.

You could use your name – I could use #briarcopywriting (although that’s a bit long and takes up too many characters) – or something that sums up what your tweet is about (e.g. #networking, #marketing etc.) so others can find your tweets when they make targeted Twitter searches.

You can even use them as part of a marketing campaign as you would when using a code on a coupon, so you can assess its success.

Improving your brand with a hashtag

With small businesses in mind, here are 4 strategies you can use to boost the effectiveness of your tweeting with hashtags.

  1. Conversations

Twitter is all about building relationships through conversation, I don’t need to tell you that. But did you realise a hashtag can make that process a whole lot easier?

If you’re looking for like-minded people to converse with, searching hashtags, such as #smallbiz, #networking, #marketing or #startups, will help you find conversations that you can become part of. This will help you make connections and gain or give advice.

  1. Simple

There are 2 things to consider here. The first is to keep your hashtags simple. One word is sufficient. If you use complex phrases they won’t be search friendly and also probably not commonly used.

The second thing to remember is only to use 1 or 2 hashtags per tweet.

  1. DIY

Making your own is a great way to generate interest in an event, marketing campaign or offer. Simply place the hashtag in front of the name of your event and get delegates to use it in all their tweets.

If you’re running an offer, use a specific hashtag to generate interest.

  1. Organisation

If you like to be organised, the use of hashtags make for a very tidy social media dashboard. If you use apps such as Tweetdeck to monitor social media activity, you can designate columns to stay on top of the hashtags you want to follow.

Make hashtags a part of your marketing strategy

Yes, hashtags can be really annoying if they’re not used properly, but in a business context they can be invaluable.

Whether it’s generating awareness, finding conversations or monitoring the ‘social noise’, this humble symbol can help you stay ahead of the game and make you a social influencer.

Why not give them a try?

Just remember, when it comes to the hashtag, less is definitely more.