What Are Twitter Hashtags For and How Do I Use Them?

January 1, 2010 by Melanie  
Filed under Twitter Reviews

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If you’re new to Twitter, you may feel inundated by the tidbits of people’s lives streaming by (especially if you’ve found a number of folks to “follow” already). By now you’ve read lots of “Tweets” and clicked the various links people have posted, but you may be wondering what those hashtags are about. You know, the words or phrases smashed together after a # symbol.

Well here’s an explanation of the Twitter hashtags (no geek-speak used):

Essentially, they’re a way of organizing information and making it easy for people to find what they’re looking for on Twitter. It’s a bit like categorizing your recipe box #stews, #cookies, #cakes, #secretBBQsauces, etc. etc. etc. So if you see someone sticking #startrek at the end of their tweet, they’re just letting folks know their comment or link belongs in the Star Trek section of their Twitter “recipe box.”

Twitter hashtags that don’t make sense?

What if you see someone using a tag and can’t, for the life of you, figure out what it’s in reference to? You can either file it into the ‘how important can it be anyway?’ camp, or you can look it up to find out. Sites such as whatthetrend.com and tagal.us can show you what hashtags are being used (or have been used in the past) and what they mean.

Why would you want to use hashtags?

Ahh, the big question. What’s in it for you? Can’t you tweet on Twitter just fine without throwing hashtags into your already limited writing space? Sure you can. But just in case you want to try them out, here are a couple reasons:

Basically, hash tags make it easier for folks to find your tweets. There are all sorts of search sites out there that help connect Twitter users. Let’s say you’re a fantasy fiction fan who can’t get enough of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other speculative fiction novels, and you want to meet other Twitter users with the same interest. If you’ve ever tried to search for “fantasy” online, you know you’re as likely to get fantasy football sites as you are to find sites devoted to the genre (and we won’t even get into the other “fantasies” people talk about online). Now if you head over to a Twitter search engine such as twitterfall.com or search.twitter.com and type in #fantasy, as opposed to just “fantasy,” you’ll only get tweets from folks who have tagged their posts #fantasy. I can’t promise that you won’t still find some, uhm, questionable tweets that way, but I’ve had much better luck than by simply searching fantasy (the football people usually use the #football hash tag).

Also, if you were writing about Harry Potter books and it wasn’t natural to use the word fantasy in the sentence, you could tag it with the #fantasy hashtag at the end, and people could still find your tweet by searching for fantasy.

How to use Twitter hashtags

Okay, you’re sold on them now. Or at least, you’re thinking of trying hashtags once or twice. How do you use them?

It’s pretty easy. For obvious ones, just add #yourtag somewhere in the Tweet (people often put them at the end, but there are no rules). If you’re not sure what the most popular hashtag convention is, you can check the search sites I mentioned above to see what other people Tweeting in that area are using (since space is limited, people usually go for short tags).

You can also start your own. Perhaps you’re talking about a new event, meetup, convention, etc. and part of the reason you’re tweeting is to advertise it. You can announce it into existence to inform other folks from the event, meetup, etc. what the official hashtag is going to be.

i.e. on Twitter, you might post:

Portland Science Fiction Lovers Meetup members, let’s categorize our tweets with the #PdxSFMeet hashtag.

Easy peasy! Just play around on Twitter and with the search sites, and you’ll get the hang of hashtags in no time.

If you’re a lover of things geeky and/or a science fiction and fantasy fan, follow the author on twitter or check out her fantasy short stories (nothing dirty!).

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