February 16th, 2011

Why I Love the Hash…Tagging in Twitter

by Jenny Hansen / @jhansenwrites
(Part 2 in a series of Twitter blogs – click here for Part 1)

 To hashtag or not to hashtag…that is the question. If you are new to Twitter, you might not understand that question yet. Listen up, all you non-taggers, because the amazing hashtag is going to help you get more out of Twitter. The hashtag, also known as the pound sign or crosshatch (#), is a grouping or searching tool you can use in your Twitter posts. 

When you tweet, only your immediate followers see you…unless you put a subject specific hashtag in your tweet that describes your topic. This hashtag will include your tweet in the ongoing chat stream that people on Twitter follow. When I tweet this blog, I’ll probably add #writing and #amwriting on the end of the post since those are two searches that I’ve created columns for in TweetDeck (this app is discussed in the next Twitter blog).

Let’s put this hashtagging business into perspective:

If your followers see your tweet, that is a wonderful thing. These are your Followers, your Tweeties, your peeps who think you have something valuable to say. It’s like your local lemonade stand where everyone on your block walks by, chats and gives you a quarter for a cool beverage. It’s a groovy, fuzzy thing and you’ll probably pay off your lemonade ingredients.

By adding a hashtag (#LemonadeStand for example) to the post, you and your little stand will be on the Twitter equivalent of Google or Bing, searchable to all the world, or at least all of the world that is so interested in lemonade stands that they follow the chat stream for #LemonadeStand.

Your local little tweet becomes part of a global “scene” with the hashtag. If you write to share your thoughts with the world, this is heady indeed. It is also informative.

Last week, I had Twitter open during lunch, just eating and watching the feed from the people I follow. Out of the corner of my eye I saw @MargaretAtwood and tuned in. There on the screen was “Interview at 1 pm with @MargaretAtwood. Go to #followreader to tune in.” All I had to do was click the #followreader hyperlink and I was watching a live interview with, as one of the other followers said, “Margaret Freaking Atwood. OMG!”  She is a long-time favorite of mine and it was a shot of adrenaline to see her answer questions from her fans, live and in color. 

The experience was amazing and way better than a crowded conference hall where you have to leave your seat and walk over to an open mic to ask a question. For this Twitter chat, we could ask her any question we wanted and, as long as we put #followreader on the end, it showed up for everyone in the chat (including Margaret Freaking Atwood!). The same goes for the #AskEditor chat the second Friday of each month at 3 pm EST. Editors abound, waiting for YOUR question. (I expect to see all of you hanging with the editors the next #AskEditor Friday, OK?)

Isn’t one of the huge draws of Twitter the ability to interact with people all over the world who you’d never be able to meet or get near otherwise? Though I think there is some narcissism at play in Twitter’s astounding popularity, I think the real excitement is the sense of community and the depth of knowledge that’s available. The hashtag will help enhance the experience for you, I promise.

It is interesting to note that the hashtag was not originally built into Twitter. The workers, particularly Chris Messina, wanted it but the management didn’t. They thought it looked too geeky. Many of the program’s features come from IRC (Internet Relay Chat), which was almost twenty years old at the time, and the hash mark has its roots there too. It’s surprising that a technology group was worried about the nerd factor. Still, the users wanted the “channel” feature and just organically began to use it. Twitter has in many ways been driven and defined by its user community which is, in my humble opinion, part of its charm.

For a great resource on Twitter (and social media and branding), I recommend that you visit Kristen Lamb’s blog and read all of her Twitter Tuesdays posts – TT #2 deals with hashtags and delves a bit deeper on some of the topics here.

If you would like to see a list of popular hashtags, go to one of the following sites:

Please feel free to add any other hashtag references or sites into the comments section below. We’re interested to hear what your favorites are.

In the meantime, enjoy some new Twitter functionality. Happy writing!

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