Here’s a tweet that made me laugh in sympathetic agreement:
@Brenna_E: i really kinda hate hashtags #hypocrite
(Tuesday, Feb. 15, 9:09 am)
Brenna is addressing an irritation that I’d wager most of us feel with hash tags, for though they make for an extremely useful filter and search tool, they can create visual clutter in a tweet.
For those readers who are already confused, let me start with the basics of the hash tag. A hash tag is a word preceded in a tweet by the # sign, i.e., #happiness. If you are, say, a brewery, you might decide to promote your brand and beer savvy by using a #beer hash tag in your tweets. Or, if you’re specifically discussing one of your #ales or #lagers…well, you get the idea.
Why use a hash tag?
Twitter users of all sorts search for hash tags online as a method of finding like-minded users to follow, but the hash tag was originally created as a means of organizing tweets around a specific topic of conversation, or to keep track of that conversation. It’s a nice way of making sure everyone’s twitter voice can be heard. Businesses are using hash tags during conferences and events so that anyone can tweet reports/reactions live from the room. The business can tell anyone attending what the hash tag is, and can use widgets to display all tweets featuring that tag on its website. Check out the #smw hash tag, which was used worldwide last week in conversation surrounding Social Media Week. Local events here in NYC were denoted by the more specific #smwnyc tag.
Besides searching for tags on twitter.com, there are a few other resources you should try. What The Trend is a site that displays the top trending topics (the hash tags being used more often right now) in different countries, as well as definitions of tags. Paper.li is a service that allows you to collect daily articles, blog posts and tweets that feature a particular tag on a page that is laid out like a newspaper. My blog post last week made it onto the page of paper.li about Social Media Week. This 2009 Mashable article links to a few more tools that you might find useful in your exploration of hash tags.
Rules of use
Your hash tag can be included in the body of your tweet, as in
“I have had way too much #coffee this morning!”,
or can be isolated at the end:
“Already on my third cup of coffee! #caffeine #jitters”
Generally, if it flows nicely and doesn’t look contrived, I like to include my hash tags in the body of my tweets, but beware the temptation to overuse these # signs. Peppering a tweet with too many hash tags makes it look to your followers like you’re trying too hard to get attention, or like you are a spammer. Focus on content, engage others, use hash tags sparingly, and your combined effort will garner the attention you want. And, as @Brenna_E’s tweet demonstrates, a little humor in your hash tagging never hurts!