The future of one of social media’s iconic images and oft-used marketing tool, the Twitter hashtag, was momentarily cast into doubt last month.

Twitter’s head of news Vivian Schiller set the rumour mill in motion with comments at the Newspaper Association of America mediaXchange 2014 event.

She said:  “We are working on moving the scaffolding of Twitter into the background,” and dubbed the hashtag “arcane”.

However, she has since denied that the hashtag will be discarded.

When a Twitter user clicks on a word or phrase that begins with #, the micro blogging site provides all tweets that have mentioned it.

They are commonly used in an attempt to raise awareness about a brand or its products or services directly among their customers.

Hashtags allow for like-minded individuals to talk about a particular topic, make it easier for users to find information on a certain subject, and increase engagement.

Follow these tips to ensure yours are effective.

  • Don’t overuse it. A sentence is more difficult to read if the majority of words are hashtagged.  Only use a hashtag if it will provide the user with value.
  • Twitter is well known for its 140-character limit in tweets, so keep your hashtag short and concise to avoid wasting words and deterring others from using it.
  • Assigning a hashtag to an event is a fantastic way to create a buzz before, during and after.  Influencers using it in the run-up will make their followers feel they are missing out. It also provides an accessible forum for attendees to make new connections as they discuss the content of the event.
  • Keep your hashtags relevant.  While trending topics, which are popular words or phrases at that moment in time on Twitter, garner lots of attention, it’s highly likely that #AskOneDirection or #6Nations are not applicable to your business story.
  • Find out which hashtags your target audiences already use.  Piggyback on those to increase your chances of grabbing their attention.  This tactic can also be useful for latching onto popular hashtags, such as #NAW2014 which was used for National Apprenticeship Week.

It’s vital to check the context of all hashtags and why a phrase is trending before using it.  Fashion brand Celeb Boutique came under fire after promoting its Aurora dress using #Aurora, which was trending at the time because of a tragic massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

It is examples such as these that support the “arcane” description. However, there is no mystery or secrecy about how best to use the hashtag.  It is often just misunderstood.

Apply these tips to your social media strategy to boost your engagement on Twitter and reach new audiences.