If you're even a casual user of social media, you have noticed people using hashtags. Hashtags turn keywords within a post into a clickable link that displays content grouped together, making it easier for users to find more of what they are looking for.

Although hashtags originated on Twitter, their use has grown across social media. Hashtags are now a form of social media culture and a popular form of communication.

Understanding how to use them strategically can make a huge difference in your company's penetration levels on social media.

Using hashtags effectively can accelerate your company's growth, increase brand awareness, help connect you with influencers and prospects, and improve the overall effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

Relevant Hashtags Drive Engagement

Using hashtags in your posts makes you more discoverable by appearing in searches. In fact, tweets that contain hashtags receive twice as much engagement with those without.

Think of hashtags as keywords. Before tweeting a post, do some research on the most popular and relevant hashtags for the particular topic you're writing on. I use a free tool called The Hashtags Encyclopedia by Hashtagify. Just type in the subject of your blog and it will give you the leading hashtags. Using the right hashtags helps you get your post get in front of your target audience.

To really stand out, consider creating a hashtag that is specific to your business! Then when users click on it, they can easily find a curated list of tweets where they can learn more about your company and its solutions.

Use Hashtags Like a Leads List

Clicking on industry relevant hashtags reveals a leads list for your business.

These lists will show influencers and prospects for your company who are relevant to your brand and the most active users within your industry. You want these people following you. Start by following them. Many of them will follow you back.

There is simply no better method that I have found to grow a targeted following for your business.

Market Your Events

Hashtags can boost your marketing efforts for events. Using a hashtag for an event consolidates tweets in a stream where interested parties can click to learn more about the event from your marketing department as well as participants.

Keep event hashtags simple and easy to remember.

Go to hashtags used by competitors at their past events to reveal a list of people that may be interested in attending your event. Then reach out to them about your event.

As you can see, there's far more to hashtags than just using trying to look cool. There's real marketing strategy involved that when done right will help generate leads, grow a targeted following, and efficiently get the word out about your business.