The Hows and Whys of Hashtags
On September 12th, seconds after Apple announced the new iPhone 5, due out in stores on September 21st; Twitter was abuzz with iPhone 5 related hashtags.
But before we dive in, let’s step back for a moment for further introduction or a refresher of hashtags:
A Twitter hashtag is simply a keyword phrase, spelled out without spaces, with a pound sign (#) in from of it…hashtags are used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.
In the case of iPhone 5, it looks like this: #iPhone5
When you search by hashtags you’ll also see the related results e.g. #iphone5livestream, #iphone5price, #iphone5nfc, #iphone5live. This ensures that you’ll catch conversations also related to your topic.
So let’s say in addition to reading articles about the new iPhone 5 you want to hear what people are saying about it. You can search by top tweets (tweets that have caught the attention of other Twitter users), all tweets, and tweets by people you follow.
As Twitter states: “Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets marked with that keyword.”
You can see the trending of a hashtag on Hashtags.org. For example: here’s what #iphone5 looked like on September 12th:
Why Use Hashtags in Your Tweets?
By using hashtags, you can start or become part of a conversation. If you want to start the conversation do a search on Twitter to make sure no one else has already used that hashtag. But if you want to join in the existing conversation, find hashtags that most relate to your message. That’s what people did with #iphone5 and all of the related hashtags.
Here are some other good resources for researching hashtags.
A few common hashtags for businesses for example, include: #jobs, #business, #sales, #economy, #marketing, #SocialMedia, #startup.
Hashtag Etiquette & Suggestions
It’s important though not to carried away with hashtags.
1) Twitter’s suggestions about how to use hashtags correctly include the following points:
- If you Tweet with a hashtag on a public account, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your Tweet
- Don’t #spam #with #hashtags. Don’t over-tag a single Tweet. (Best practices recommend using no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet.)
- Use hashtags only on Tweets relevant to the topic.
2) Chris Messina’s Wiki regarding Hashtags offers a wealth of information and advice:
Used sparingly and respectfully, hashtags can provide useful context and cues for recall, as well as increased utility for the track features…It’s best to use hashtags explicitly when they’re going to add value, rather than on every word in an update. A good rule of thumb to follow is to focus on your update first, and only if it quantitatively adds value, to append one-three hashtags.
Chris suggests that hashtags should be about answering the simple question: “What are you doing” rather that “What tags apply to what you’re doing?”
3) Examples for When/How to Use Hashtags include:
- Events or conferences
- Brand announcements
- Ways to categorize topic areas of your business
One company who does a very nice job with Twitter and Hashtags is Whole Foods Market. Here’s an example of some of the hashtags they use: #value, #vegetarian, #MeatlessMonday, #GlutenFree, #WFMdish.
What you’ll notice too in Whole Foods hashtags is the use of the CamelCase format, joining words with each words initial letters capitalized, which helps to maintain readability. See how #MeatlessMonday stands out better than #meatlessmonday.
4) A good Twitter user to follow for interesting news and tips about hashtags is @hashtags
What are your experiences with hashtags? Do you use them in your tweets? Do you search on them to learn more about a topic? Share your experiences in the comments below.