"What actually is a hashtag?"

My father asked me this the other day and he comes from an advertising background. "You see it on everything these days, even the new John Lewis advert." Which by the way is fantastic! If you haven't seen it yet, I won't spoil it but how cute are the wild animals and of course the star #Bustertheboxer - and there you go, we say it and use it without even thinking.

The #HASHTAG - We hear it in conversation, advertisers #LoveThem even Bruno Mars is singing about them. So what are they? Well, let me break it down like this... Essentially a hashtag, those short links preceded by the pound sign (#), makes a word or a conversion searchable and groups all relevant context together. The hashtag helps you to organise content and follow discussion topics based on the particular keyword or words you grouped using '#'.

For example if you've heard of the recently launched #leaseholdhour on Twitter and you wanted to take part you would include #LeaseholdHour in your tweet to join the conversation, and see all the posts that mention the subject in real time just by clicking on the hashtag, giving you the ability to comment and reply.

Then each time you reply you use #LeaseholdHour and everyone can easily see what you've posted. In fact it was during the first leasehold hour, oh sorry #LeaseholdHour that the question was asked about should the hashtag be all in capitals or lowercase.

The answer is it doesn't matter. Upper case, lower case or even a mixture of both. As long as the letters or numbers (I'll come onto characters in a moment) are the same it will still group effectively. Sometimes it's useful to capitalise the first letter of a new word to make it easier to read but #LeaseholdHour #leaseholdhour or even #LeAsEhOlDhOuR will all be perfectly fine!

So what character can you use? Well, numbers are supported and good for regular events e.g.: #ARMAConf2016 was used to allow everyone to join the conversation at this year's conference. But be aware punctuation marks are not permissible, so commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks and apostrophes won't work. Leave out asterisks, ampersands or any other special characters too, and whatever you do don't add a space!!

The moment you use an unsupported character or space you actually break the hashtag at that point e.g: #Flats&Houses will only return searches on 'flats' because the '&' broke the search and if you put #Flat's&Houses you'd actually only get results on #Flat because the ampersand ended the search. So just be aware and as for a space #flats and houses... - obvious now isn't it?

Now you've got that, how about you create your own?

Brands do it all the time, just in case you thought it was extremely coincidental that they managed to get the exact phrase they wanted! It also probably wouldn't have escaped your notice that this actual column is called #BeMoreSocial and that in itself was deliberate, so the title could be interactive and form the keyword for discussions about these articles and more.

So just get creative, start with the '#' and go from there. Many strings of words will have been used before but if yours is totally unique then well done, you've just made your very own hashtag.

Now it doesn't mean that others can't use it but it does mean you're the first on that particular social network. I actually created #TimpaniWeekendKitchen for all the food pictures I post of what I cook over the weekend on Instagram, I even have one for my cat #BumbleBileyDoes, so you see you really can create your own for any occasion!

Advertisers are very switched on to the benefit of hashtags, just look at the amount of commercials that use a hashtag now, like the new John Lewis ad, and programs that start with a hashtag to encourage you to take part on social media like Xfactor or even Phil and Kirsty with #location. Just see how many you can spot the next time you sit down to watch some TV.

Twitter was actually the birthplace of the hashtag and it's now used so you can see what's 'trending' i.e. the most popular story. Marketing often includes a popular hashtag in a message to make a conversation more noticeable on social media but some advertisers make a play on these.

Recently, especially on Instagram, the hashtag #sorrynotsorry was extremely popular mainly when posting a picture you were unapologetic about. Well I noticed the recent press ad for Gucci Guilty uses a hashtag of #GuiltyNotGuilty - picking up on the trend but twisting it to their advantage.

Curious which hashtags are trending across social media? Hashtags.org tells you which tags are hot in real time.
- source Mashable.com

Well I hope that's answered the hashtag question. We always say this, but this time it's actually far more relevant! If you have any questions at all or if there is anything you haven't quite understood just tweet me @jamesbiley using the hashtag #BeMoreSocial and I'll be sure to respond. If there's a delay it's because I'm at my Dads sharing this article with him!

James is now Marketing and PR Manager for Countrywide's Estate and Asset Management and Property Auction divisions.

The #BeMoreSocial column was created for Flat Living and its goal is to drive more effective communication within the property management industry.

If you have a customer service experience using any form of marketing or social media that you’d like to share then tweet @JamesBiley and @FlatLivingLoves using the #BeMoreSocial.

We’d love to feature your examples in a future edition.

This article originally appeared in Flat Living Magazine in November 2016.