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.
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?
How do I know if a hashtag already exists?
Go to search.twitter.com 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 KUSports.com, 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 trendistic.com, 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:
- Write the hashtag in the tweet like it is part of the sentence:
- 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.