— Briana Campbell, WE 

This week, the hashtag turned 10.

More specifically, the hashtag as we know it – love it or loathe it – turned 10.

In 2007 a Twitter user named Chris Messina proposed the hashtag as a way to organize groups within the stream of content on Twitter, an idea he clarified with a thorough proposal for how the hashtag should be used. What started with one user looking for a better experience on a fledgling platform has evolved into an international phenomena – a way for people to connect with like-minded others around the globe, a way to join conversations around events happening in real-time, a way to source information on pop culture and breaking news, and, of course, a way for brands to spread their message and engage in (and track) conversations by consumers.

Over the course of the past ten years, brands have used hashtags to tell their stories and grow two-way dialogue with their consumers. While some of these hashtags have helped to create a sense of community around a product (Coca-Cola’s now iconic #ShareaCoke), others have joined in to shift larger cultural conversations (Always’ #LikeaGirl), and still others have taken something that everybody does and brought it into the light (who else but Charmin could #tweetfromtheseat?). Of course, there have been some epic fails here, as well (I’ll just leave this here).

While there is always an element of risk when bringing your brand into the public forum, brands can avoid some of the pitfalls that come along with the world of hashtags by following a few simple steps.

Keep it simple. The majority of Tweets and Instagram content is composed on a mobile device – with its accompanying small keyboard. By keeping your hashtag simple, you minimize the risk of inevitable typos or unintentional autocorrect interrupting the flow of engagement.

Brevity is best. Twitter still has that pesky 140 character limit. Keeping your brand’s hashtag short and sweet will help increase the likelihood that users will be able to include it in their own message. People are simply less likely to use a hashtag that eats up too many of their characters.

It’s not all about you. While it makes sense that a brand will want to use their own name or slogan in a hashtag they are putting out into the world, it’s not always the best idea. Think about the audience that you are trying to reach – and the story you are trying to tell – before automatically assuming that your own name makes sense. There may be a hashtag that tells your brand story even better than your own name.

Commandeer the conversation. After ten years of hashtags, there are a lot of natural conversations utilizing them. Use listening tools to discover what your audience is using to drive conversation, the topics they care about, and the trending conversations – both about your brand and broader topics. These can guide your consumer engagement strategy, and even show you opportunities to own a conversation.

Do your homework. Finally, before adding a hashtag to all your marketing and communications channels, make sure to do some research. A little legwork into how a hashtag is currently being used on social media can go a long way in helping a brand keep its reputation golden.