At Lightspan we get asked about hash tags quite frequently, so let’s quickly review what Twitter hash tags are, why they’re useful and how to use them.
What are hash tags?
Hash tags, or the usage of the “#” sign in front of keywords, are a user-generated convention for assigning a topic or context around tweets.
These indicators of topic act as both hooks and groups:
- Hooks – the hash tag pulls people into conversations
- Groups – people who tweet about the same topics create virtual chat rooms around the hash tags they use
So let’s say that you look at your twitter stream and see someone tweeting this:
“I just downloaded the #hashable application for #iphone”
You may want to click #hashable to find out what it is and to see what others are saying about it, or you may want to see what other iphone news people are sharing and you click #iphone. The hash tag just hooked you in.
But topics designated by hash tags can vary from products (#iphone) to technology (#android) to events (#atmidwest) and actual Twitter chats (see #blogchat). Particularly in the case of an event or when a topic discussion is organized for a certain day and time as a Twitter chat, the hash tag functions as a group.
When and How to use them?
You can use a hash tag within the tweet or at the end of a tweet. For example: “I hope the #Chicago #Blackhawks win again,” use the hash tags inside the message. “Let’s go Blackhawks! #Chicago #Hawks,” places the tags outside the main message of the tweet.
Always use a hash tag:
- for promoting events
- when you want your tweet to be part of a topic
- during a chat
Hash tags for chat:
In the case of a chat, you may want to only focus on that hash tag for the duration of the chat. There are websites that facilitate this, such as tweetchat.com and tweetgrid.com. Go to one of these websites, enter the chat hash tag, and you will be able to focus on the chat conversation exclusively.
When setting up a new hash tag:
- Make it memorable. Choose a hash tag that is easy to remember and spell. Particularly when using mobile devices people plug in hash tags by memory. If it’s hard to remember or spell they may not use it at all.
- Give it context. Write a blog post that describes it and periodically link back to this post in your tweets.
- List it. Add your hash tag to a directory. Use Twubs, hashtags.org or Tagalus; list the tag and give information on how it originated; how it should be used; and when.
A more unusual way to use hash tags is for emphasis, or almost as a “footnote” to a tweet. This doesn’t indicate a topic or a chat, but is just a reflection of how pervasive hash tags have become in online communication.
“I’ve been scrubbing and cleaning all day! #needahousekeeper”
Use them much but don’t overuse them
Using too many hash tags in one tweet is spammy, ugly, and useless. So don’t do it. I recommend one or two hash tags per tweet, maybe less but no more. Tweet with grace.
Mana Ionescu is president of Chicago Digital Marketing firm, Lightspan Digital. Mana has over 8 years of digital marketing in multiple business environments, including corporate, client-facing, small business, non-profit and international business. She loves SCUBA diving, circuit training, and opera. You can find Mana on Twitter @manamica.