The use of hashtags is a valuable skill for serious Twitter users. They aren’t really very difficult to grasp and use, and they really pay off. The challenge is to educate as many people as possible about the use of hashtags so that their use becomes more widespread, and they will be more valuable to everyone in the community.
You may have seen a user include a number sign (#) directly followed by a word in one of their tweets. This is a hashtag in use. The user is tagging his tweet with that word. These tags are linked by most Twitter clients to the search page for that word which will find for you other tweets with the same tag. This is often used in the case of large events. Livebloggers create a hashtag, inform others, and use it on every tweet that is related to the event. For example, the hashtag for the inauguration was #inaug09. Keep in mind there is nothing magical about that particular tag except that it links to a search for other tweets with the tag included. The tag could just have easily been #inauguration; in fact, it was. Some users decided on the tag #inaug09 while others used the tag #inauguration. I would probably favor the former since it is a little shorter while still clear, but one is just as valid as the other.
There is no process associated with creating a hashtag. Just include it in a post, and it is created. It’s value will come mostly from others using it. However, even if you are the only user to ever use a hashtag, it can still have immense value. My wife (her Twitter is @tiffypooh in case you’re wondering) was recently captivated by the We Are One inaugural celebration. She could have wasted space in each tweet to specify the event she was tweeting about, or she could have left it ambiguous and just included the information she wanted to get across. Instead, she created a hashtag (#weareone) and included that in every post. Not only was this a way to organize Twitter as a whole (at least if others used her tag), but it was a short way to let her readers know what she was talking about. This eases the pain of having to duplicate so much information in each little 140-character message.
Here is my suggested use of hashtags. This is a pretty open-ended concept so there are certainly other ways to use it. Use them however you wish, but if you don’t know what to do with them, try following these steps:
- Check to see if there is already a hashtag for your topic. Hashtags become more valuable as more people use them. Don’t create a hashtag unless there aren’t any for what you’re talking about or you really think the ones that exist are terrible. If a good one exists, simply write your post and include it somewhere. If a hashtag does not exist…
- Come up with a good hashtag for your topic. It should be short but easily recognizable even by a user who hasn’t been told explicitly its meaning.
- Introduce your hashtag by telling your followers what it is for and asking them to use it in their messages on the same subject. Be sure you actually include the hashtag in this message.
- Write your tweets on the subject and include the tag. You may include it in the context of the message like this: “I’m so excited about the #weareone inaugural celebration!” Alternately, you may just want to tack it on to the end like this: “The mix of people and performers is so ecclectic. I love that so many different people are excited! #weareone”
Hashtags are incredibly useful They are currently used only by a small percentage of the Twitter community. Luckily, a small percentage of the Twitter community is quite a lot of people. This means you can still get a lot out of using tags both in your own tweets and to find topics you want to see on Twitter.