On a broad level, rural events and conferences are failing to tap into Twitter and the use of hashtags.

I remember sitting in a school gymnasium packed with 1000 people for a major community talent showcase event. There was no official hashtag. No embedded social media strategy. No Twitter wall on a giant screen capturing conversations around a single hashtag. A quick glance around the gymnasium clearly revealed that people were actively using their smartphones during the event. In the end, the evening was a whole bunch of people doing their own thing on social media. Imagine if hundreds of people were connected that evening through a planned strategy? And imagine the potential for marketing that the event to external audiences that same evening (the event itself was sold out!).

So, what is a hashtag (you’ll see them on Twitter preceeding by the # sign)? A hashtag is a way of centralizing a single theme around a specific topic. The hashtag represents the topic. When used during an event, Twitter users can all connect with each other around the use of central hashtag. We call this crowd-sourcing. And it raises the communications, interactiveness and conversations at an event to a whole new level.

At the 2013 Mumford and Sons Gentlemen of the Road Tour in Simcoe, Ontario,Canada, the masses of concert-goers easily connected via the hashtag #GOTRSimcoe.

Here are 3 must-have keys to creating an effective hashtag for your event or conference:

1. It has to be short
Creating a long hashtag such as #NorfolkCountyFair means your users have to type in 17 characters every time they tweet. Good luck. Most won’t bother. That will result in #fail. And don’t forget, each tweet can only have 140 characters maximum. That 17-word hashtag just cut into that valuable character space of your audience of users. Try to keep your hashtag to eight characters or less.

2. It has to be memorable
If your event hashtag looks something like #hncdsb13, you’ll gain little traction among users. First, it’s long. Second, the only way users will ever remember it is by having a sticky note stuck on their mobile device. And that isn’t going to happen. Your hashtag has to make sense to the average user. Thirdly, if your hashtag looks like jibberish it is useless.

3. It has to be unique
Before you decide on a hashtag, you must do some research on Twitter. Is your potential hashtag already in use? If you try to promote your rural community’s beaches with the hashtag #beach, your tweets will be lost in a worldwide babble of #beach tweets about everything from family fun to “babes” in barely visible bikinis. Is your potential hashtag being used in an embarrassing manner which will reflect negatively on your organization by simple way of association? Could it be twisted and used in an embarrassing manner? When singer Singer Boyle (remember her from America’s Got Talent?) released an album, her public relations team used the hashtag #susanalbumparty.  It backfired when jokesters realized it could mean #SusAnalBumParty and they ended up making a mockery of the launch.