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What is a Twitter Hashtag?

What is a hashtag? It’s one of the most common questions we’re asked when we run our social media workshops and it’s definitely one of the most misunderstood aspects of Twitter. Twitter themselves define a hashtag as:

“The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.”

What Does a Hashtag Do?

Hashtagging a word turns it into a clickable search term in your tweet.  When other users click on the hashtagged word, it will search Twitter for other tweets with the same hashtag.

Why/When Would I Use a Hashtag?

Hashtags are particularly useful for events of conferences. For example, when we run the Preston Social events, people are encouraged to use the hashtag #prestonsocial for any tweets related to it. Not only does this allow us to track the conversations taking place, it helps people who aren’t able to attend to still be involved.

People also use hashtags in time of disaster or emergency. This came to prominence in 2007 during San Diego’s forest fires (with #sandiegofire used to give people updates of its progress) and again during the UK riots of 2011 (#ukriots).

Hashtags can also be used to add tone to a tweet that could otherwise be misinterpreted, similarly to how smileys behave. For example, adding #joking to a tweet lends context to the tweet. It’s easy to be misconstrued – just ask Paul Chambers, who was at the centre of the Twitter Joke Trial after he tweeted, “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”

Memes often trend on Twitter. For example, #ReasonsThatISmile was used, whereby users tweeted what it was that made them smile. While we often discuss the value of Twitter for businesses and organisations, remember that Twitter is a social tool, where memes often rule.

Of course, people can use hashtags to identify a person, company or brand, similarly to how a person, company or brand might be mentioned with the @ symbol. For example:

Hashtag Etiquette

Hashtags can occur anywhere in a tweet. Some people use them inline and others choose to add them at the end of a tweet.

#Avoid #hashtag #abuse #by #limiting #the #number #of #hashtags #in #a #tweet. Not only do they look spammy and noisy but recent research by BuddyMedia has shown that tweets with one or two hashtags receive 21% higher engagement than those with three or more hashtags. Furthermore, using more than two hashtags actually leads to a 17% drop in engagement.

Only use hashtags that are relevant to your tweet. Piggybacking on trends or popular hashtags, for the most part, will end badly. Just look at the classic case of Habitat, who added irrelevant hashatgs to their tweets: at the time, Iranian protests were spawning hashtags such as #Mousavi and #Iranelection, which Habitat appended to their tweets, forcing an angry reaction from the Twitter community.

And Finally

Remember if you’re insistent on linking Twitter to other social media accounts (which in most cases we’d recommend you absolutely shouldn’t), hashtags are useless elsewhere.

Have you seen any classic examples of hashtag abuse, or creative or innovative use of hashtags? Comment below and let us know.

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