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If you’ve used Twitter at all – or talked to anyone that has – you’ve probably heard of hashtags, a hash mark followed by a word or phrase. As the primary tool for easy sharing of related content on Twitter, this simple system has grown into something every business needs to understand and leverage for social media marketing.

From generic ideas like #funnycats to events like #FIFAWWC, businesses need to embrace this shortcut to audience engagement and make the most of the opportunities and advantages available.

Branding
A brand hashtag is unique to your company and can be used as a social media signature. It can help convey what sort of company you are, what you’re interested in as a brand, and other information. It’s also a great way to make sure that when people talk about your company, they have an easy way to point their friends and acquaintances in the right direction.

Trends
Trending hashtags on Twitter and other sites that use the system are the hashtags seeing a flurry of recent interest. While these are a great way to leverage current events for a little attention, be careful; make sure you know WHY a hashtag is trending before you stumble into something. Many of the biggest embarrassments in social media stem from misuse of trending hashtags.

Promotions
Attaching a catchy hashtag to a particular promo can help it spread quickly. You can also leverage certain hashtags consistently used for promotional purposes to grab more widespread interest in what you’re offering.

Content
Perhaps the simplest use of hashtags is to make sure people looking for a particular type of content can find it when it’s being shared. Make sure that when you have new content to share, you’re attaching the right hashtags to help its potential audience find it.

As you can see, hashtags are both incredibly simple and complex at the same time. It’s easy to slap on a string of words prefaced by a # and call it a day, but it’s very difficult to make maximal use of the system. Master the hashtag, and you’ll have mastered every social media site which uses the format.