Learn, listen and engage.

These are the things you can do on Twitter with the help of hashtags--those sometimes mysterious words or phrases preceded by the “hash” or “pound” symbol in your feed.

Hashtags make it easier for you to stay on top of industry developments. And for those willing to take it a step further, including relevant hashtags into your messaging enables you to contribute to larger conversations taking place, a tangible way to demonstrate thought leadership.


It would be difficult to get to every industry event, but luckily, most major conferences now designate a hashtag to extend their events beyond the exhibit hall. You can use these conference-specific hashtags as search terms to follow related discussions and content.

When you monitor a conference hashtag you can often access speeches, download materials and view related media such as videos. These hashtags are most active when the conference is in session.

Examples of hashtags that advisors may want to follow include the #ETFInvest hashtag used for the Morningstar ETF Investment Conference, and the #InsideETFs hashtag for the Inside ETFs conference sponsored by ETF.com.

Use of such hashtags is growing dramatically. For example, in 2013, approximately 950 tweets were sent using the #ETFInvest hashtag which was a 90% increase from a year earlier.


And remember, you don’t have to tweet to use Twitter. Many advisors just listen. Listening is a great first step advisors can take to use social media to benefit their practices. Using hashtags to filter content, you can find “conversations” that may interest you.

Let’s say you’re interested in exchange-traded funds. Typing #ETF in Twitter’s search bar allows you to see all the tweets with that keyword. Or, if you come across a tweet that includes #ETF, simply clicking it will show you all the other tweets with that keyword.

If you’re inclined, hashtags can also allow you to join the conversation. Simply include the relevant hashtag in your tweet, and anyone searching for that hashtag will see your tweet. It’s a good way to demonstrate your thought leadership and expertise.

However, there are certain rules of etiquette. If including a hashtag in a tweet, make sure it’s relevant to the topic. And don’t overuse use a hashtag. You don’t want to be accused of spam.

Finally, when we say anyone searching for a hashtag will see your tweet that includes journalists. Especially during major industry conferences, we have seen an increasing number of media outlets quote advisors who have taken to Twitter to voice their opinion. This can be just the thing some advisors are looking for, but may be an unwelcome shock to others. For this and other reasons, it's important to understand the regulations and standards that apply to the use of social media.

That said, there is little risk to just listening. And once you get the hang of hashtags, you can turn what at times seems a cacophony of tweets into a more pleasurable listening experience.

Eric S. Anderson is the head of the advisor social media team in Vanguard’s Financial Advisor Services division. He is responsible for developing and driving the organization’s social media strategy, management and governance. You can follow Vanguard’s advisor twitter handle @Vanguard_FA.