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May, 2014

How One Symbol Can Help You Get More Patients: The Art of the #Hashtag

By Stephanie Beck

Are you looking for ways to connect with your patients online? Or do you just want to know how to keep them engaged (comments, retweeting, liking, and sharing)? Then, you will want to know more about these two symbols, # and @.

We'll cover hashtags in this article and tackle the history, strategies, do's and don't's of the @ symbol next month in part 2.

hashtags - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The # symbol, you might refer to it as a number or pound sign, has gained its popularity on social platforms and is commonly known as a hashtag. The @ symbol, normally read aloud as "at" and also commonly called the at symbol or commercial at, has had its meaning grow to include the sense of being "located at" or "directed at." For personal or professional profiles on social media sites and on the social media platforms, the @ symbol is a known as tagging.

Although hashtag and tagging sound alike and in some ways they are both used to highlight or draw attention to particular items on the social media networks, you do use each of them differently.

We all know how quickly things are updated when it comes to online marketing. Social media is no exception. So, the strategies and information I am sharing is applicable at the time it is being written. These are strategies I recommend implementing today, but with the ever-changing online world, it will more than likely need to be modified in the future. Rather than throwing up our hands in aggravation at what seems like the constant state of change the online world seems to be in, I recommend we adapt a mindset of flexibility and be ready to make those modifications when needed. Below are some valuable ways you can make hashtags and at symbols help your practice get more patients.

History of Hashtags

You might be wondering what hashtags are or you understand what they are, but aren's sure how best to use them for your chiropractic practice. Although Twitter was the pioneer and leader in using hashtags, other platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Google+, Flickr and as recent as June 2013, Facebook added the hashtag option for their users. But social media platforms weren't the ones to invent using the hashtag. Stowe Boyd was the first person to use the word in 2007 to track topics on online forums. Today, you would be hard pressed to watch a television show, sporting event or listen to the radio without a reference being made to hashtags. From the national news to late night television, hashtags are mentioned frequently during the prime time hours.

With more than 1.5 billion users between them, Facebook and Twitter are still the undisputed leaders when it comes to social media. The environments are about as similar and different as PC and Mac. We use them to achieve similar things, but they look, feel and in some cases work quite differently. I think it is safe to say the two networks have a fierce rivalry and it seems the developers are intent upon differentiating their cyber-scapes from each other as much as possible. This fierce rivalry has created severe loyalty in both user camps. To the die-hard Facebook fan, Twitter will often look like a confusing jumble of weird code. To the loyal Tweep, Facebook can seem like it requires too much maintenance and time. Now, there are also those seasoned social media folks who love and utilize both. For purposes of this article, although # and @ are used across other social sites, I will be using Facebook and Twitter as the primary examples.

How Hashtags Are Used

Hashtags have always been an important and vital part of the Twitter universe. But in spite of their popularity, many people who spend their time on Twitter don't use them properly and end up getting their content filtered from search results. With the addition of hashtags to Facebook, we suddenly had millions of people who wondering what they were and essentially clueless on how to communicate with them.

When using hashtags on Facebook, they work a couple of different ways. First, when you click on a Facebook hashtag whether it is on a personal profile or business page, a box will open up showing other people and pages within a user's network that have recently used that hashtag in chronological order. You should also see contributions from other users (provided those users have set their profiles to public). Even if they are outside your network, they could show up if they have also publically used the hashtag.

Second, you can also search for a hashtag in the Facebook search bar at the top of the page. If you wanted to see what people are saying about back pain, you can type #backpain and click on the results that populate below the search bar. You can select pages and newsfeed posts within your network and other public profiles that have recently used that word or term. Also note: when you click to contribute something, that hashtag will automatically populate your post.

The purpose for hashtags on Facebook is they want users to be able to find useful content in an easier way. And worth noting, hashtags have also morphed from just a filter and finding conversations into a way that has helped save lives in disasters or fomenting and coordinating revolutions.

The official description from Twitter explaining hashtags states, "the # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages." Twitter lends itself to be more of a "public soapbox" for the majority of the users. Because of this, you are able to see all kinds of data from the content Twitter users share. What this means is, if you click on a hashtagged word, it allows you to view any other message that contains the same hashtagged word or phrase. That way, you can see what others have to say on that particular subject. Because these are so wildly popular on Twitter, many businesses will sponsor a trending topic. That means a business pays a fee to Twitter to get bumped to the top of the list, giving huge brand visibility to its sponsors.

How to Create a Hashtag

As mentioned before, a hashtag is a word or term that is preceded by a # symbol. There are no spaces or special characters between the # and the word(s). This automatically creates a hyperlink that people can click to find all the posts and updates from anyone using the hashtag to talk about a topic. The links are not case sensitive but I do recommend adding an upper case to make it more readable for the user (ex. #IloveMyChiropractor is easier to read than #ilovemychiropractor).

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