You see hashtags all over Twitter. Heck, you even see hashtags on Facebook now. But what’s all the fuss about? And why the hashtag frenzy? Learning a few tricks of the hashtag trade, you can reap quite a few benefits from a seemingly innocent text symbol.

Hashtags are used as a label for a keyword, term or abbreviation that ties surrounding topics together. Hashtags are most frequently used on Twitter, although they’re becoming increasingly common on other social media platforms, as well. Hashtags are sometimes used within the context of a status update, or as an add-on at the end of an update to identify a particular post as belonging to a specific conversation. Searching by hashtags lets users quickly find all posts relevant to a particular subject. So how can you use these intriguing symbols to your advantage?

Branding with HashTags

If you’re running a promotion or hosting an event, branding it with a custom hashtag not only helps you track conversations online, but it gets people talking. After all, you must be pretty important to have your own hashtag, right?

You can add a hashtag with your business name after every Tweet you post, but there’s really little point in doing so. Why? Your Twitter handle, which assumingly is at least somewhat relevant to your business, is going to show up in searches anyway. You’re pretty much wasting valuable characters by attaching your own personal hashtag after every Tweet. Even if another user re-Tweets your posts, your handle is still attached.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how do you go about branding yourself using hashtags? Create something unique to your business, and tie it into something that gets people talking. For example, Domino’s Pizza in the U.K. dropped the price of orders of its featured flavor by one cent during specified timeframes every time someone tweeted with the hashtag #letsdolunch. The hashtag didn’t include the Domino’s name, but it did generate a ton of buzz and exposure for the brand.

Host a Twitter Chat

Hashtags are commonly used to label a conversation happening on Twitter. Sure, users can search for keywords—but not all the questions, answers and comments throughout the course of a conversation would contain the same keywords. Not to mention, your search would also include a bunch of non-relevant tidbits that aren’t actually a part of the conversation.

Using a hashtag to identify the topic, such as #SEOchat, provides a unique identification system that helps participants filter results, focus in on the conversation and easily respond to questions and comments without getting lost in the shuffle.

The really cool thing about using hashtags for a Twitter chat is that your conversation is going to show up in other search results for relevant keywords. And that means you’ll be attracting more targeted followers who tune in out of curiosity to find out just what you and your Tweeps are chatting about.

Go Trending with #HashTags

Tweeting with hashtags on trending topics gets your Twitter handle or other social profile in front of a ton of new followers. When trending topics are relevant to your business, take advantage and start talking about it. You’re likely to get more Re-Tweets, meaning your name is gradually exposed to an exponentially larger number of users. If your content is really compelling, you’ll end up gaining new followers in the process.

Work these hashtags into the context of your Tweets, or add them at the end to identify the appropriate topics and ensure that users who aren’t necessarily following you, but are following the topic, can find your Tweets and social updates.

Hashtags are a powerful way to start branding your business as a conversation leader among relevant industry topics. Make sure your hashtags are informative, useful and relevant. Tie them into promotions or discussions when possible, and you’ll find yourself earning hundreds of new followers with little additional effort. After all, it only takes a second to add a # to the great updates you’re already posting.