If you didn’t grow up using social media (we don’t need to say what age that might be!), you might call the # sign on a telephone or keyboard the pound sign. Throughout the last few years, though, this little sign has undergone an identity shift and is now a key player in the social media marketing world.

Hashtagging originated on Twitter as a way for users to tag ideas that they wanted people to share with them. For example, a musical artist might create a hashtag, such as #BillyJoel2016, and everyone who wanted their Tweets in one collective space could use the same hashtag and see the community around that tag.

Hashtags have had a colorful past, with some major hits and misses. Politicians, artists, and marketers all use hashtags for different reasons, such as uniting a social cause or promoting a new product. Let’s examine some of the most common do’s and don’t’s with hashtags and social media marketing.

Don’t overcomplicate. Do make it simple and relevant.

A hashtag such as #WealthManagementForWomenInSanDiego isn’t going to get you very far because it’s too long, hard for people to remember, and oddly specific. Hashtags are a great way to rally a group of people together, so make it easy to type and remember.

Instead, some catchy hashtags for the same idea may be #SDWomenInWealth, #WealthManagementSD #SanDiegoWealthManagement. Use abbreviations and key ideas to your advantage. Also, try not to make your hashtag too general, like #wealthmanagement. These tags won’t get noticed because they will be too popular.

Don’t use the same strategy on all social media platforms. Do know your audience.

The most common social media platforms to use hashtags are Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. In contrast, LinkedIn and email don’t use hashtags. This means that when you hashtag on Twitter and Facebook, users can click on your hashtag and see similar posts. If you hashtag on LinkedIn or email, users won’t be able to click your tag and it will defeat the purpose of uniting ideas.

Don’t use hashtags excessively. Do use them mindfully.

One of the worst things you can do with hashtags is water down your content by using too many. We have all seen tweets #where #every #word #is #hashtagged (#cringe). When you hashtag irrelevant words or add too many at the end of your post, users lose interest and see you as an inexperienced social media user.

Instead, limit yourself to two or three hashtags for a post. For example, you can hashtag your services, such as #financialplanning, your location, such as #sandiego, or your niche market, such as #sandiegoattorneys.

Don’t use a hashtag before you know the meaning behind it. Do jump on to trending hashtags.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of companies using hashtags before understanding the meaning behind them. Often, hashtags are a way to promote a social or political cause or unite those going through a similar struggle. Business Insider has some of the most noteworthy Twitter Fails from large companies.

What you can do, though, is take advantage of trending hashtags and use them to promote your material. Every day, Twitter has a “trending” section on the side of their home page. Some examples are #TuesdayMotivation or #MemorialDay2016. A service professional can incorporate these hashtags in their content to make it relevant and eye-catching. For example, a financial planner may tweet “Our #TuesdayMotivation is helping our clients save for retirement.” This is a very basic example of how trending hashtags can be used appropriately.

Do you use hashtags in your social media marketing? Do you have any best practices or horror stories you want to share? Email us at [email protected] or comment below and tell us!