I know something from social media has hit the mainstream when two things collide:  the technology appears on TV, and my mom asks me how to use it. In this case, the hashtag "#dwts" appeared on an episode of Dancing with the Stars. Now, when someone gets kicked off, I'm asked to check Twitter for the results.

What's a hashtag? On Twitter it's a clickable term. Simply by adding a pound sign, #, in front of a word or phrase, users can click on the term and see a modified Twitter stream of everyone using that hashtag. If you see #dwts, click it, and everyone talking about the show will appear in your stream, starting with the most recent post.

Marketers are recognizing the power of hashtag for online conversation. You'll see them pop up during TV shows, on product packages, and they are particularly useful at conventions to follow the action. The tag #eatdrinktweet is one I use during events; in fact, hashtags can be used to measure how many Tweets are being posted by using services such as www.tweetreach.com. That's how I know #eatdrinktweet generated 2.5 million impressions on Twitter in March.

Hashtags are also used to moderate Twitter chats, when users gather on Twitter at a set time to discuss a certain topic, usually for an hour. Every Wednesday, which is of course "#winewednesday" when  you should use that tag to give a shout out to your favourite wine or winery, #winechat is held at 6pm Pacific time, and gathers users together from  across North America.

Established by Tinhorn Creek's winemaker Sandra Oldfield (@sandraoldfield), #bcwinechat takes place Wednesdays at 8pm Pacific, with a topic related to BC wine.

And that brings us to #bcwine, the most established and well-used hashtag for our wines. When I'm looking for news, events, releases or just fellow #bcwine lovers to follow, that's my go to hashtag. Under my Twitter handle @okanagantaste, which is all about #bcwine and #bcfood, I'm much more likely to notice and retweet (think of that as forwarding a Tweet to your followers) a post with those tags.

Best practices for hashtags? Put one or two in your Twitter bio to help people find and follow you. Two or three hashtags in a Tweet is OK, any more and you'll look desperate. Search for a hashtag before you start using it, to make sure no one else is — that's good Twetiquette. Avoid numbers or symbols, as not all Twitter platforms will recognize hashtags with them.

Every now and then, check out #coupdeschats. If you follow me @allisonmmarkin, you know it's my favourite hashtag.

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