You can see some examples of hashtags out in the wild courtesy of Chris, Simon and Linn.
Ok. I know what a hashtag is. What does it do?
If you click on a hashtag you'll be taken to a page which shows every single tweet – from every profile (whether or not you're following them) – which contains the same hashtag. The below example shows the usage of the hashtag #manchester:
What do hashtags do?
Hashtags are a simple way for Twitter users to monitor what people are saying about particular events or things. It enables you to quickly find out news, opinions and views on one subject from across Twitter. It's like a library cataloguing system, putting all the related tweets in one place.
What sort of events do people use hashtags for?
Anything. The UK general election had the hashtag #GE2010, while the recent sighting of the International Space Station had the hashtag #ISS. Twitter hashtags don't have to be reserved for global or national events though and the feature can be used to promote things like regional news and small gatherings. The monthly Manchester SEO meetup uses the hashtag #mancseo, while the Manchester Social Media Cafe uses #smc_mcr.
Say I went to a Manchester SEO event. How would I know what hashtag to use?
Tricky one that. You can usually find the hashtag for global or nationwide events by taking a look at the trending topics on the right-hand side of Twitter (once you're logged in). For local hashtags, your best bet is to use a website like Trends Map to see popular hashtags in your region. Otherwise, just keep an eye on your Twitter feed; if the event is popular, someone will probably slip the hashtag into a tweet.
But who decides what hashtag becomes popular?
The majority. A global issue may have dozens of different hashtags, although one will probably emerge victorious as more people comment on the occurrence. For example:
Say, West Bromwich Albion win the Premier League. There will probably be a few hashtags for this:
Usually, one of these terms (say, #WBA) will be used more frequently than the others. Thus, more people will accept this hashtag as the correct one to use in the situation. The others will shrink into painful obscurity and end up on Celebrity Come Dine With Me.
Local meetups (particularly those in Manchester) will usually already have a set hashtag listed on the website.
But how do I keep track of a hashtag?
There are a number of ways. If you're a web user, you can monitor any uses of a hashtag by searching for it in the box on the right-hand side of your Twitter page. You can also save searches for easy access in the future.
If you're using a programme like Tweetdeck, you can set up a column for a hashtag by pressing the 'add a column' button on the top left and typing your search into the box.
If you're on a shiny iPhone, simply go to the search function of your preferred Twitter app and type in your hashtag. Again, these can also be saved for quick access later on.
These sound great. I want to make a hashtag. Tell me now.
Hashtags have to be simple and short. There are two real reasons for this:
- People are lazy and don't want to type out massive amounts of text
- Smaller hashtags let people say more on a tweet. (Twitter messaging allows 140 characters)
So, keep your hashtags simple and relevant.
But why has this person done a hashtag about doing the washing up? That's not going to be a communal activity?
Hashtags can also be deployed for comic effect and many users use the feature to describe their personal feelings towards a situation or action. It's a bit of personal narration designed to raise a smile from their followers.
Right. Anything else I should know?
Not really. If you have any questions, drop me a line on Twitter and I'll be glad to help.