It may be hard to believe that Twitter is only seven years old, given its phenomenal growth from an upstart social media platform to a virtually instantaneous communication tool used by everyone from stay-at-home parents to U.S. President Barack Obama.

As a result, the term “hashtagging,” named for the “#” symbol used to flag topics being “tweeted” has become part of the modern digital parlance. But not all hashtags are created equal, and that’s why it’s a good idea to spend some time becoming familiar with the best way to use them to string Twitter conversations together.

“The word ‘hashtag’ made it into the Oxford English Dictionary a few years ago,” says Cara Crosetti, Los Angeles-based account director and web specialist with Wickware Communications Inc. of Toronto. “It is part of our world – so advisors might as well understand how to make it work for them.”

Crosetti offers some tips on how you can make better use of hashtags in your social media communications and research.

1. How do hashtags work?
A hashtag can be one word or a short phrase (without spaces) that is immediately preceded by the number sign symbol (#). That sign linked to a word or phrase is like a key that helps to organize comments under a specific topic heading.

For example, if you are looking to see what is being said about mutual funds in the Twitter universe, you can enter #MutualFunds into the search function to see what is being said.

You can also find tweets based on your geographic location, for example, #Toronto #Montreal or #Vancouver. This can be helpful to gather information or find prospects that are talking about financial concerns in your area.

“It can be helpful in your broader market research,” says Crosetti.

2. Use hashtags to boost engagement
Incorporating hashtags into your tweets can be an easy way to boost your engagement levels in a wider online audience beyond those who already follow you on Twitter.

For the same reason that you will find it easier to view information collated under a specific topic by using a hashtag, others will be able to see information that you have decided to tweet. A study conducted by the New York City-based social media-monitoring firm Buddy Media, found that tweets that include a hashtag have their levels of engagement double over tweets that have no hashtag.

3. Do your research
Once you have identified topics that you believe can add value to the online discussion, spend some time and make a list of the hashtags that might go with those subjects.

Then, try a couple of them out. You might find that people who use Twitter are more receptive to your tweets if they have a more general hashtag such as #FinancialAdvisor, rather than one that requires special knowledge of the area, such as #ETF.

In addition, you might find hashtags that are already being used. In that case, you don’t have to create a new term, you can simply join a Twitter conversation already in progress on the topic you are trying to promote. “Maybe there is a hashtag you can piggyback off of to be part of the conversation and gain a little share and enhance your profile,” says Crosetti.

4. Short and sweet
You only have 140 characters to play with in a tweet, so make sure your hashtags are short and to the point.

Avoid meandering hashtags that won’t help you stand out or make your contributions part of the conversation. For example, a hashtag such as, #FinancialPlan, will likely garner more attention than something along the lines of, #FinancialPlanningToStartSavingForRetirementNow.

Also, be sure to only use one or two hashtags per tweet. The same Buddy Media study found that tweeters who use more than two hashtags per tweet see a marked decline in their overall levels of engagement.

“Being too hashtag heavy,” Crosetti says, “is a big turnoff.”