PHOENIX (Oct. 3, 2011) — It is late afternoon, and convention attendees are streaming out of the day’s last sessions and onto the sidewalks of downtown Phoenix. The city is full of promise, but these badge-wearing visitors aren’t quite sure what to do next. If they use Twitter, though, they might glance at their smart phones and see this:

“#ASHHRA Attendees: Ideas for your free time tonight—@districtkitchen has a great HH 3-7p, @cibopizzeria (603 N. 5th Ave.) for fab pizza.”

The above recommendation is an actual tweet posted by @visitphoenix—the Twitter handle of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau—on Sept. 12 during the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration’s Annual Conference and Exposition in Phoenix. The tweet coincided with the close of the conference’s second day and pointed attendees to happy-hour options at a pair of nearby restaurants.

Other helpful tweets from Visit Phoenix followed, and all contained the conference’s official hashtag, making it easy for Twitter-savvy attendees to see them.

Nina Simmons, online marketing manager at the Greater Phoenix CVB, is the downtown Phoenix expert who authored those tweets. Simmons tweets about all things Phoenix—happenings, deals, insider tips—throughout any given day, and she uses hashtags to tailor messages specifically for convention attendees. To ensure that her tweeted recommendations reach their intended audience in a timely fashion, she consults a convention’s daily schedule of events.

“By communicating with meeting attendees through their conference hashtag, we act as a real-time concierge,” said Simmons, who co-founded, a web portal dedicated to ultra-local living in Central Phoenix, before joining the CVB in May. “We deliver the resources they need to navigate our city directly to their fingertips, then we give them the ability to engage us in a digital dialogue.”

For the uninitiated, a hashtag at once helps spread and organize information on Twitter. Adding a hashtag to a Twitter message—in the form of the “#” symbol followed by a descriptive word or word string—gives that message context and groups it among subjects of similar interest.

For example, Twitter users writing about the Super Bowl might affix the hashtag #superbowl to their tweets, thereby integrating their comment into a stream of Super Bowl-related tweets that carry the same hashtag. This allows other Twitter users who are interested in the Super Bowl to type “#superbowl” into a search field and view tweets about the game.

Conventions, conferences and tradeshows rely on Twitter’s hashtag system more than almost any other entities. Meetings and event organizers use hashtags to deliver information to attendees, and to facilitate communication between them. Hashtags can help attendees track conversations about a keynote speaker or find a post-event social gathering.

Many conventions post their official hashtags on monitors inside meeting venues, and others list hashtags on special web pages created to inform event attendees about the social-media resources at their disposal.

“In the event industry, people have always been social by nature—whether establishing personal connections at live events, understanding a client's meeting objectives, or negotiating business deals with vendors,” said Eric Eden, who writes for Cvent’s Event Planning blog. “It's an innate part of what we do. … In speaking with clients who use our event planning and management software, we have heard that social media is not a future trend that is 3, 6 or 12 months out, it is impacting their meetings and events in important ways today—right now.”