Twitter hashtags: Everything you need to know

Twitter hashtags are a little scary when you don't understand how they work. We have a feature in groups and profiles that lets you track specific hashtags, so here's a short Q&A on the basics. Please leave any more questions in the comments!

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is two things: a label and a filter. Using a hashtag in your tweets is like flagging them as relevant to a specific topic -- the topic being the hashtag. By searching for a specific label, users filter out any unwanted information from their streams.


While "Lost" was still on (moment of silence) I set up a search on my Twitter client for the #LOST hashtag. Then I was able monitor the stream of content labeled with that hashtag for news, blogs, tips and links about the show.

Where do hashtags come from?

People create hashtags to help organize and promote content. They are born when someone (or a lot of someones) desire a way to organize tweets on a specific topic.


For St. Patrick's Day, the Lawrence online community created the #lawstpats hashtag before we got around to it. So we decided to use that hashtag while tweeting about St. Patrick's Day news and events. Since the hashtag already existed and was popular in the online community, we joined in their conversations by adding the hashtag to our relevant tweets.

Another example:

A few weeks prior to Bike to Work Day, we started promoting the usage of #ksbtw for any tweets related to cycling or riding bikes to work. We created the hashtag and "owned" it by promoting it, using it and encouraging everyone to use it across our websites and news coverage.

Who can use a hashtag?

Anyone. Any account, any user, any company, any news organization. Hashtags are open to all users, and you can't stop someone from using a hashtag.

How do I create a hashtag?

Anyone can create a hashtag. Just add # infront of a word and poof #you've #created #a #hashtag.

How do I know if a hashtag already exists?

Go to and type in the hashtag. If it's been used in the past eight days, you'll see it in the search results.

When should I use a hashtag?

  • Breaking news: We use the #ksstorms hashtag when there is severe weather or news about severe weather in our coverage area.
  • Event coverage: We aggregated any tweets with #lawstpats (see above) on our home page using a TweetGrid widget. Users were able to watch a live stream of the parade and read live tweets about the parade at the same time.
  • Ongoing coverage: For, we use the hashtags #kubball and #kufball for any tweets related to basketball or football. Fans, bloggers, other news organizations and even the university have used those hashtags, too.
  • National content: Use Twitter search to see if there are hashtags out there being used for national stories and use them for your local coverage.

If a hashtag is already in use, should I still use it?

If it's relevant to the content of your tweets, of course you should. However, if you type in a hashtag and results pop up that don't match your topic at all, try creating your own.

What if a competitor starts using a hashtag we created?

Get over it. Hashtags aren't copyrighted property, they're a free tool. Make your content more appealing to tweeters and the problem will solve itself.

There are multiple hashtags about one topic. Which one do I use?

Pick the one or two that are most popular. If you don't have access to a paid monitoring tool like Radian6, try using a website like, which lets you track how often a hashtag was mentioned over a period of time.

How do you write a tweet using a hashtag?

You can do it two ways:

  1. Write the hashtag in the tweet like it is part of the sentence:
  1. Add the hashtag to the beginning or end of the tweet (the end usually makes more sense):

A few more helpful hints:

  • The shorter the better. Save language real estate in tweets by using abbreviations whenever possible (e.g. #kubball vs. #kansasbasketball)
  • Hashtags can't contain spaces. #oilspill = correct. #oil spill = incorrect
  • Don't use a hashtag if it isn't relevant. The followers won't appreciate that and it gives you bad Twitter karma.

Tagged: Twitter, hashtags, tips, about


Alice Brewer 8 years ago

these are some good tips for a beginner like me. I will give it a try this week as I tweet. thanks, Alice

Cindy Hart 8 years ago

Thanks for the great explanation Whitney!

I have another basic twitter question - I'm VERY new and just trying to figure it out as I go.

When I "retweet" something - but want to add my own comment to the original tweet - how do I do that? I tried to retweet last night, but it would only just post the tweet exactly as written and didn't allow me to insert my own (very relevant and witty) comment.

Does it have something to do with my privacy settings since I don't have my twitter feed as a public feed right now? Or does it have to do with the privacy settings of the original tweet(er)?

Many thanks for your help!

wmathews 8 years ago

The retweet (or RT) button you used will automatically repost the tweet to your account. When the RT shows up in your feed, it will appear as if the original source sent the message, but with a few small changes. See this photo for an example:

To add your own comment in front of the "RT @username Blahblahblah..." the easiest way is to type "RT @username" and copy/paste the tweet text. Then add your comments and publish the tweet. You may have to squish the text a bit to fit everything into 140 characters.

Clear as mud?

Cindy Hart 8 years ago

Ah ha! That makes sense. There's no "click to retweet and add your own snarky remark" button or trick - it's a copy and paste thing. Got it.

Back to your original post, I've been paying more attention to hashtags since reading your post and have noticed a couple things:

1) The #ksstorms hashtag has been really useful and interesting to follow over the last couple weeks, particularly when there was some flooding in town. What I was reading on that twitter hashtag feed helped me decide which direction to drive home.

2) Sometimes people use them as humorous inserts like #donteatthatcheese which totally goes against your helpful hint of making sure it's relevant - because you click on that hashtag and there is nothing there. Bad twitter karma I’m sure.

Thanks again for the explanations Whitney!

wmathews 8 years ago

I'm glad you enjoy the #ksstorms tag. That one is really useful for us, too.

I won't say don't use hashtags for humor and/or sarcasm, because they can be helpful in conveying tone through text (which is tough).

The point is to not insert yourself into an irrelevant conversation by using a popular hashtag. For example, if you're a local band, you wouldn't want to use the #ksstorms hashtag to promote your show -- unless the show had been rained out. Make sense?

Cindy Hart 7 years, 12 months ago

makesperfectsense and I'll get it all figured out sooner or later! Thanks again for all the great information.

wmathews 8 years ago

Oh -- and it doesn't have anything to do with your privacy settings or the original tweeter's privacy settings. Forgot that part!

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