Time for a Quick Quiz:
True or False: A hashtag (#) is an illegal drug. If you answered True, then you better read the following. If you answered False, you should still read the next 587 words.
I talked to Gabe Seiden from Connect4Consulting about the world of hashtags. I wanted to give information to my clients about hashtags so they would have a cursory understanding of the concept before they built a social media program for their business. I wasn’t looking for a do-it-yourself manual on the use of hashtags or a long-winded diatribe on the analytics involved in hashtags.
Q. Gabe, what is a hashtag?
A. A hashtag is a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. Hashtags are unavoidable. Everyone uses them – on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, even TV. For example, if you type #NationalCoffeeDay (or #nationalCoffeeDay or #nationalcoffeeday, because it’s not case-sensitive) into Twitter’s Search box at the top of any Twitter page and hit Enter, you’ll get a list of tweets related to National Coffee Day (September 30th, by the way). What you won’t get are tweets that talk about “coffee” because “coffee” isn’t preceded by the hashtag.
Q. Why do I want to know about hashtags?
A. Hashtags allow you to create communities of people interested in the same topic by making it easier for them to find and share info related to it.
Q. Where do hashtags come from?
A. Any user can create one simply by adding it to their own tweet. For example, when a plane went down in the Hudson River a few years ago, some Twitter user wrote a post and added #flight1549 to it. I have no idea who this person was, but somebody else would have read it and when he posted something about the incident, added #flight1549 to HIS tweet. For something like this, where tweets would have been flying fast and furiously, it wouldn’t have taken long for this hashtag to go viral and suddenly thousands of people posting about it would have added it to their tweets as well. Then, if you wanted info on the situation, you could do a search on #flight1549 and see everything that people had written about it.
Now hashtags only show up spontaneously if there’s a breaking news item. Otherwise, they’re used to promote, praise, or pan people (#TrumpSucks), brands (#VolkswagenScandal), events (#MNF), and anything else people want to discuss en masse (#Joaquin).
Q. How do I create my own hashtag?
A. The first thing you do is conduct a basic Twitter search to see if a related term already exists. These days, odds are it does. Probably the only reason you would need to create a new one nowadays would be for the group activities category I mentioned above. In that case, since the tag will use up some of your 140-character limit, you want to keep it fairly short, while still making it precise so other people aren’t likely to use it for another purpose. For example, let’s say I wanted to create a virtual book club with my friends scattered around the country. I might create the #gsbookclub hashtag that we would all add to the tweets we’re posting about the books we’re reading.
If you want more than just your friends to use the hashtag, you might want to “announce” it to your followers.