Hail the Almighty Hashtag

Hail the Hashtag
Hail the Hashtag! Img remixed; original by Doug Ellis Photography

One of the things that I think Twitter deserves a lot of credit for is the inclusion of #hashtags. Without that simple technique – to add a “#” symbol on the front of a word or phrase, so much of Twitter’s value would not have emerged. But thanks to the inclusion of the self-managed, personally-generated hashtagging process, Twitter users around the world can anchor themselves to a wide range of conversations and communities. I think the best thing Twitter did was choose not to operate any sort of index, directory, or authority on hashtagging; but rather it’s part of the process of becoming a savvy user.

But hashtagging may be a little misunderstood, and is frequently mis-applied.

Brian VickeryBrian Vickery – @dbvickery
Don’t hashtag everything 😉 RT @albertqian: Add Data Common Sense to Your #socialmedia #marketing Strategy – http://ow.ly/5YpRq

I think Brian’s takeaway from the article (based in a large part off research & results from Argyle Social) is astute. Hashtagging is an art. It doesn’t take much to go from a nicely tagged tweet – accented with the right balance of hashtags and content – to become an amalgamated mess of pound-signs run amok.

Mario Dávalos P.Mario Dávalos P. – @davalette
Creating a #hashtag is not a brand strategy, nor adding # to every idea you have is not one either. Edit your ideas before you publish them.

Mario, I completely agree with your thoughts here. The reality is that many newcomers to the social media (twitter) universe see the opportunity to hashtag as a way to anchor their conversations in to many others. The assumption is fairly simple: If I want to intrude on numerous conversations (and appear in numerous search results and hashtag results), I simply need to tag the hell out of everything to make sure I’m relevant and “targeted.”

This same process, sans-140-character limit, was present in the early days of the web. Want to prove that your website is totally relevant to real estate in the 92727 area code? Well then add that to the bottom of your website! Preferably in the same color code as the background of your site!

Of course, “excessive” hashtagging is really in the eyes of the reader, not the author. It’s a tweet. Unless you’re a trending celebrity, I don’t think the typical Twitter user applies much weight to each individual 140-char or less thought that pops in to their mind.

Doug HamlinDoug Hamlin – @doughamlin
Saw an ad for a movie that included a hashtag for the movie. Since I hardly ever watch TV, I have no idea if that has been done before.

Since day one of using Twitter (and other “tagging” environments), I’ve felt that typically nouns are the best things to hashtag. People, places, and things. People are typically tagged with the @-symbol; places are frequently geo-coded in to the tweet (or tagged specifically in Foursquare or other social check-in services). But places are also ideal for the almighty hashtag, especially when those places are temporary or sub-sets of the whole.

Hashtag, as art?
Hashtag = Art? Maybe. Thanks JeffIsAGeek

“Things” are perfect for hashtagging, because it provides a common anchor to index and cross-reference among the social sphere. Want to share your thoughts on Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games, and find other readers / fans? Just look up the hashtag #hungergames – at any moment there are usually dozens of conversations.

I tend to hashtag anything that has a clear non-generic name. #GameOfThrones was one I used frequently to participate in the fan dialogue during that show’s first season. It was also a great way to allow my audience to see my tweet, and easily follow the thread if they were curious what I was following. Hashtags on twitter are the ONLY categorization tool that the system has available. You can’t partition tweets in any other way other than applying hashtags.

[ Top img credit: Doug Ellis Photography @dougellisphoto / Lower img credit: Jeff is a Geek @JeffIsAGeek]

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2 thoughts on “Hail the Almighty Hashtag”

  1. The relevance of hashtags diminishes as search capability improves. If my search for the term “WordPress” is as effective (or even more effective, as it catches the non-hashtaggers, too), then you have to ask, why bother with hashtags at all?

    I use hashtags, but they feel a bit archaic — like some sort of secret code shared by twitter geeks. Real people shouldn’t have to learn when and when not to add a symbol to their tweets. They should simply write. Our tools should be smart enough to do the rest.

    1. Jeff,

      You make a good point that search is improving quite a bit, so in that regard you’re right, hashtags aren’t as necessary. But I don’t think hashtags were ever really about search relevance – they were always about organization.

      I don’t think Twitter would’ve caught nearly it’s popularity early on if, when you wanted to post a tweet, you had to categorize it (ie: “Technology”, “Politics”, “Home & Garden”, etc…)

      And when it comes to writing a tweet, I tend to think simply adding a #-symbol is about the easiest / quickest way possible. But where I think hashtags fall completely apart is in two places:

      1 – Generic terms. Hashtagging #marketing really isn’t very useful – it’s too generic of a term. Hashtags are more effective when they are extremely specific, which is why I tend to think hashtag = nouns.

      2 – Events / temporary activities. Hashtags are great, but so often the term is either not-obvious (#smmoc is not obvious unless you know what you’re looking for) or you get conflicting hashtags from users (leading to a bifurcation of the group). I see it all the time at Wordcamps, for instance: #WordcampLA vs. #WCLA … Which one do I use?

      Thanks for your feedback. I think the hashtag is a strong step in the right direction for social sharing, but I do see your point that perhaps it’s just a temporary solution until social tools can have a little bit more “smarts” built in.

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