What’s With the # on Tweets?
If you’re new to Twitter, or maybe you haven’t even started using it yet, but your friends are dual-posting to Facebook and Twitter, you may have noticed the “#” in some status updates.
Wondering what that “#” is all about?
Well, so was our own Amy Powell and her friends on Facebook. So, she asked me to put together a quick post to explain what it is and how you can use it productively.
The “#” (aka, the “Hashtag”)
Simply put, the hashtag is a keyword. Placing a “#” at the front of a word in your tweet denotes that word as a “tag” or “keyword”.
It tells the world, “Hey, I’m talking about THIS specific thing...”
Here’s an example of a tweet using hashtags that you may have seen a few weeks ago:
Getting the #chili ready for our #superbowl party
In this example, the tweet is letting readers know that it is about chili and the Super Bowl.
Why? The Community Effect
Okay – so duh! Right? Of course the tweet was about chili and the Super Bowl. Did the person really need to put the “#” in front of those two words?
Well – they did if they wanted their tweet to be noticed by others following news about chili and the Super Bowl. There are a few ways that their hashtags could be found:
- Search – on Twitter, you can search through the millions of tweets out there looking for specific hashtags. It’s built right into the toolbar at the top of the page (#Discover). So, let’s say someone was doing a story on chili consumption on Super Bowl Sunday. They could search for #chili to see how many people were talking about chili that day.
- In-Tweet Links – Twitter links all hashtags to a search for that hashtag. From the example above, #chili would’ve appeared: #chili - go ahead and click to see where it goes!
- Trending – Twitter displays hashtags that are trending (meaning growing in popularity). On Super Bowl Sunday, as you might expect, the hashtags that were trending were #superbowl, #patriots, #jets, etc
So, these hashtags take updates from your little world of followers and bring them out into the larger community of Twitter users.
Why? The Marketing Effect
The hashtag has some power when it comes to marketing. Here are a few examples:
- Building Your Base of Followers - People often look for new users to follow by using a hashtag search. So, if you have a site about recipes and you’re tweeting your new blog posts about recipes, include #recipe (read: the recipe hashtag) in your tweets. Users who want news on recipes can find you this way and follow you.Give it a try now – go to Twitter, click the “#Discover” link and search for “#recipe” to see all of the users that come up! If you’re into recipes, you’ll find loads of people to follow this way.
- Marketing an Event- Hashtags are popular with events. Organizers usually decide on a hashtag and let all of their attendees know about it. They then encourage attendees, sponsors, speakers and others to use the hashtag whenever they are tweeting about anything related to the event.Do a search for “#ase12″. Here you’ll see the buzz that’s already generating for Affiliate Summit East 2012 – an event that doesn’t even happen until August.
Why? The Publishing Effect
Whether it’s for a specific topic or an event (or anything else you can think of!) – these hashtags can be used to pull news from Twitter and publish it on your site.
Since it’s an election year here in the US, let’s use an example of a political website.
These sites are working hard to find and publish all the news they can about the political race. But, news moves FAST and sometimes it breaks and explodes before small sites can react.
But, by using the # – publishers can fuel RSS Feeds (this is just a fancy way of saying “automatically publish the latest headlines from another site on my site”) on their sites from Twitter.
So, they could create “boxes” on their site that say something like “Latest GOP News” to display #gop tweets, “Romney News” to display the latest tweets about #romney or “Election Coverage” to list all of the tweets about the #election.
(These “boxes” are easy to create using plugins for WordPress. There are general plugins for RSS feeds, and plugins designed specifically for Twitter. These will even ask you which hashtags you want to display.)
If you are tweeting your blog posts about the political races – your tweet and link to your site could end up on these sites if you implement the right hashtag.
Why? The (Nerdy) Comedic Effect
Okay – so despite all of the useful reasons behind the hashtag – they are also a great platform for super nerdy jokes!
Even though they aren’t intending on being followed or searched, people will use a silly mash up of words to disguise their joke as a hashtag.
For example, here’s a tweet with a hashtag joke:
3 meetings and 2 reports due today – #ineedmorecoffeetomakeitthroughthisday
The hashtag here is just for comedic effect.
Best Practices for Hashtags
Okay – so if you’re ready to start using hashtags (and really, there’s no reason NOT to), here are some tips:
- Do some searches to see what shows up for a hashtag before you start using it. Doing this will help you determine if you’re on the right track. This is especially important if you’re going to come up with a code (like the event example above) – check to be sure it’s not already in use.
- Use no more than 3 # in each post. Otherwise it looks like spam.
- Mash your words together. The # does not recognize a space. So if you have a two or more word phrase, push it together – like #socialmedia
- Search for other users to follow by doing a # search.
- Know when to use @ and when to use #. The @ is all about users – and a little more personal. So if you want to mention a specific Twitter user, use the @ and the tweet will show up in his/her/their feed and they will get a notice about it. But, if you just want to talk about a topic, use the #.