A recent addition to Facebook is the hashtag. While it is still underused by some (and abused by more) the hashtag is one of the most important tools in social media, and its evolution to Facebook is critical.

As is your understanding of its proper use.

How the Hashtag Works
If you put a hashtag (or a “#”) in front of a word in a post, that word now becomes a hot link. You can click on that hot link to open up a stream of communication about that word in Facebook — and on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and other platforms. Your post, which used that hot link (or hashtag), will be included in the stream of communication about that hashtag.

Let’s use a Facebook post about rural electricity as an example. You can turn “rural electricity” into a hashtag by combining the two words and adding a “#” in front of them: #RuralElectricity. (Notice that there’s no space between the words.) You can do this within the post or as what’s called a trailing hashtag.

In-Post Hashtag: We’re celebrating 80 years of #RuralElectricity this year!

Trailing Hashtag: We’re celebrating 80 years of rural electricity this year! #RuralElectricity 

What’s the Value of the Hashtag?
The hashtag is, in effect, a sorting tool for all of the content across social media. Hashtags enable us to collate all of the conversations on a particular keyword, bringing news, conversations, and fun topics to the surface of millions of messages posted every minute online.

Three Tips for Hashtagging Success

1. Don’t Abuse the #
Not everyone on Facebook is used to the hashtag yet, so if you create posts that are weighed down by many #keywords, you’ll drive your customers and supporters away from your Cooperative’s posts. We recommend setting a three hashtag cap on each individual Facebook post.

2. Wrong Isn’t Right
It’s important to format the words in your hashtag well. How do you do that? Two rules of thumb are to capitalize each new word in your phrase, and to avoid punctuation marks.

By capitalizing each new word in your hashtag, you’ll make the hashtag easier for your audience to read and comprehend: #RuralElectric is easier to read than #ruralelectric is, right? Right.

The reason you should avoid punctuation is that only letters and numbers can be included in a hashtag. #RuralElectricHistory works as a hashtag, but #RuralElectric’sHistory doesn’t (because the apostrophe will break the hot link).

3. Funny is Serious
Finally, don’t use your hashtags to emphasize the punch lines of your jokes. This is sure to frustrate your audience. As your Mom probably told you, “If you have to explain it, it isn’t funny.”

Hashtags are supposed to be a helpful tool on Facebook — and on other social media platforms. If you want your Cooperative to be part of the conversation, then you need to use the hashtags that are part of that conversation online.

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