It's really easy to start using hashtags on Twitter: just put any string of characters after a pound sign. However, using hashtags effectively can be much more difficult. Not all hashtags will ever become popular, and there is no guarantee that following a list of tips will give you the next major viral sensation hashtag. By keeping these rules in mind, though, you give yourself the best chance possible of using hashtags on Twitter that will eventually make it big.
Rule #1: Keep Hashtags Short and Sweet
When using hashtags, the shorter you keep them, the easier they'll be for your audience to remember. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should strip out letters until it's as short as possible—a hashtag like #election2012 is much more readable than one that says #elctn12. Don't over abbreviate when using hashtags on Twitter, or you'll find that you're completely alone in using hashtags that you create.
Rule #2: Use Hashtags More Than Once
Whether you're using hashtags of your own devising or using hashtags on Twitter that have already become popular, you need to make use of any hashtag more than once. If you aren't using hashtags more than once while using popular tags, this is what will happen: you'll use a tag once, and then, within minutes or even seconds, it will fall off the first page of people looking for that tag.
If you're using your own unique hashtags, it's even more vital that you use them more than once. If you're not using hashtags on Twitter more than once and you're making your hashtags up yourself, the ones you make are very unlikely to ever catch on.
Rule #3: Don't Use Too Many Hashtags in One Tweet
If you're #considering #typing #every #word #of #your #tweet #like #this in order to get the highest number of hashtags, forget it. Using hashtags on Twitter is like using spices: you need to do it sparingly to get the best effect. If all you're using is the “spice” of hashtags, people won't be able to get to the message underneath very easily.
While using hashtags two at a time can sometimes be effective (especially if they're related hashtags and people haven't been able to settle on one to use for an event yet), it's usually more effective to just use one. Using hashtags on Twitter at a rate of more than two per tweet is generally frowned upon by readers, and might get your account listed as spam among some directories.
Rule #4: Search For Hashtags Before Using Them
You should never start using hashtags that are new to you before doing some preliminary searching for them. Understanding the popularity level of hashtags before you use them will give you a better idea of when to post them and how often to use the same tag.
Hashtags.org is a good resource to check before using hashtags on Twitter. Hashtags.org lets you know before using hashtags whether a tag is gaining popularity or seems to be on the decline, so you can strategize appropriately. You may opt not to start using hashtags you've researched after you see that their popularity has already peaked and is now in steep decline.
Rule #5: Know Your Hashtag Definitions
Using hashtags on Twitter incorrectly can be not just embarrassing—in some cases, it can cripple your business. The internet is full of “hashtag fails” that resulted when a company started using hashtags it didn't fully understand the meaning of. For example, several companies have used hashtags that, without their knowledge, were being used to communicate information about natural disasters. When that happens, people tend to get outraged—and they tend to vent their outrage right on Twitter, creating the kind of public relations nightmare that can haunt your company for months or even years to come.
In order to avoid the embarrassment, check definitions before using hashtags on Twitter. TagDef.com is a great resource to check before using hashtags, because it presents comprehensive definitions for many thousands of popular tags.
Rule #6: Don't Overuse a Hashtag
While you should be using hashtags on Twitter more than once, don't take this as license to post the same hashtag on different posts dozens of times a day. While this strategy for using hashtags will certainly keep your hashtags visible, it'll also be obnoxious to anyone who is foolish enough to follow your Twitter feed. No one wants to be flooded by messages—especially not from a business.
If you're using hashtags on Twitter multiple times in a day, keep it to just 3 or 4 times. Remember, there's no rush—you can always do it again the next day. This is a small enough number that your audience may not even notice you're using hashtags repeatedly in a day.
Rule #7: Invent Some Unique Hashtags
While it's great to start by using hashtags on Twitter that were created by other people, at some point you need to make your own branded hashtags as well. Try using hashtags that are related to your firm's name or some aspect of the specialty area of law you focus on. Generally, when anyone else starts using hashtags on Twitter that were originally yours, it's because they somehow got them from your feed. This allows you to keep track of who's really looking and interacting with the content you're posting on Twitter.
Rule #8: Keep an Eye on Trending Hashtags
Checking some websites regularly to monitor popular hashtags is a great way to know what the Twitterverse is tuned into now. By seeing what's popular today, you can sometimes even anticipate what will be trending soon. For example, if you notice that a large number of people are tweeting about a particular court case, you can keep track of what's going on in that case and be ready with a link to a blog entry about the verdict (even better: have two blog entries already written once the jury goes to deliberate—that way, whatever the verdict is, you're ready with an analysis).