What the #? An Intro to Hashtags

%social engagement %social listeningWhen you’re new to Twitter, it’s easy to get stuck in the “I just don’t get it” rut. I’ve found that this often comes down to one of two hurdles:

  • Twitter is a blank slate. Twitter is what you make of it – which means that, until you start following people relevant to your interests, it really doesn’t have much going for it.
  • Twitter is overwhelming. Whether you get lost in Twitter’s “Discover” section or quickly connect with more people than you know what to do with, Twitter can easily become an overwhelming firehose of information.

One way to sift the interesting and relevant from the mundane? Hashtags.

Hashtags are for…

Essentially a filing system for social networks, hashtags – represented by the hash mark (#) – are used to tag messages about a particular topic.

While largely associated with Twitter, they originated with an old-school network called IRC and have since been adopted by other social networks like Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest.

…finding and sharing information

Keywords are something we’re all familiar with, whether using a search engine to find information or flipping through the Yellow Pages. Hashtags are much the same, but a little more focused.

For example, a search on Twitter for “recipe” generated results that included “recipe for disaster” and “greatest recipe ever”, but only a few tweets pointed to anything edible. A search for “#recipe” however, delivered a list of mouth-watering ideas.

Keyword searches can’t filter for context or relevance. Instead, people use topic-specific hashtags so people with similar interests can find the information more easily.

Unique hashtags can also attract great information. #SmallBiz, for example, is a tag commonly used to share information about small businesses.

Hashtags aren’t just for finding information; you can also connect with new people by tagging your own tweets with popular hashtags.

A quick word about etiquette, however: Make sure your information is relevant, and make sure you’re not interrupting an active conversation. (“Conversations on Twitter,” you ask? Read on!)

…joining a conversation

Having a conversation with another person on Twitter is pretty straight forward; you simply add their username to your tweet (i.e. @JugnooMe) and you’re done. But how do you manage a conversation with five people? Or 30?

Unique hashtags can make group discussions much easier. Rather than trying to keep up with what different individuals are saying – and the order of their comments – group members can use a tool like TweetChat to focus only on messages with the particular conversation tag.

How are these conversations pulled together?

  • A unique hashtag is selected. It’s better to create a new hashtag than to use one that’s already active, like #marketing. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of unrelated noise.
  • Choose a date and time. Just like a conference call, participants will need to tune in at the same time.
  • Use a chat tool to save your sanity. You can monitor hashtags using a platform like Jugnoo, but real-time conversations can move so quickly that you may find it difficult to keep up. Chat tools like TweetChat automatically refresh every few seconds, so it’s easier to follow along.

There are numerous Twitter chats that cover different topics and industries; joining in can be a great way to meet new people and learn from a solid group of experts or enthusiasts. #sCRMchat, for example, is Jugnoo’s rapidly-growing social business chat (hosted every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET).

…setting tone

This last sometimes irritates purists, but hashtags can also be used just to set a tone. A search for “#sigh“, for example, will return with a very mixed bag of tweets. The hashtag “#FirstWorldProblems” is a self-depreciating tag that often accompanies complaints about the minor things in life.

Getting started

Finding relevant hashtags can take time and research, particularly if you’re trying to find active Twitter chats; they change often and I’ve yet to find a definitive and up-to-date directory.

However, using Twitter to search for keywords, and monitoring broad hashtags on topics you’re interested in – like #socialmedia – will help you connect with others who may be able to point you in the right direction.

What hashtags have you found for your business or industry? Leave your recommendations in the comments section below!

image: clasesdeperiodismo

About Amy Sept

Amy Sept is a freelance contributor to the Jugnoo blog. The owner of Nimbyist Communications, she combines her natural geekiness with more than a decade of professional communications experience to help non-profits and small businesses build awareness in print and online. You can meet her on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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