What is a Twitter hashtag?


Today is another “back to basics” post for the newbies among us.

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen Tweets that have words preceded by a number sign (#) and wondered what the heck that was all about.

On Twitter, that’s called a hashtag. I love hashtags on Twitter, because they help you follow the conversation about a specific subject or event in a much easier way.

A hashtag is a way to add context to a Tweet – think of it like a “tag” that you add to a photo to identify the subject so when people search, they find your photo. Or, for you bloggers out there – when you blog, you add tags as well (In Blogger, they’re called “Labels”) so people can search your blog for topics. Or, if you’re using Google Ad words for advertising, think of hashtags in terms of “keywords.”

Now that you have a better idea of what a hashtag is, you’re probably wondering how to use them. 🙂

Let’s say that you LURVE American Idol. You just can’t get enough about it. You talk about it at the watercooler. You talk about it on Facebook. If you want to talk about it on Twitter with other fans, you could use either the hashtags #Idol or #AI. For example:

“@SocialMedBtrfly I think JLo makes a great judge on #Idol #AI. She’s so sparkly, she distracts you when the singing stinks”

How did I know that those were the hash tags for American Idol? I simply did a search on Twitter (search.twitter.com) for the full name “American Idol” and saw that the majority of the Tweets had those hashtags. Also, just follow the people that talk about what you’re interested in on Twitter, and note the hashtags they use.

More examples, if you’re a fan of “Glee” like me, we could chat using #GLEE or #Gleeks so other fans of the show could more easily follow our conversation. If you wanted to talk to me about my TV obsession of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” you could use #Buffy and #BTVS.

There are also chats on Twitter that use hashtags to organize comments from chat participants. For example, on Tuesday’s there’s a Career chat. So when the time comes, everyone joins in the discussion using the hashtag #careerchat. This allows Tweeters to “follow” a certain hashtag to stay in the conversation. If you reply to a question or comment in the chat, you would also include #careerchat in your Tweet.

Sometimes, if you look on the right-hand side of the Twitter client, you’ll notice “trends.” You’ll probably see random hashtags like #februarywish or #traveltuesday. These are “memes” – or games that allow people on Twitter to get to know the Twitterverse better around a certain topic. For example “My #februarywish is that I get a new job so I can travel again and talk about it on #traveltuesday.”

Do you have to use a hashtag when you talk about a subject? Not really, but it sometimes helps include you in conversations that are already happening (especially around news events, like the #Egypt uprising, etc.)

There are also etiquette rules around using hashtags. You want to use them sparingly. For example, this would be an obnoxious Tweet:

“Have you been to #Italy? I #traveled there and I #love it. I #flew to #Rome and ate lots of #pizza and #spaghetti.”

That’s just too many conversation tags in one place. 🙂

Questions? Comments?

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