Last time we looked at some Nuts and Bolts usage of Twitter, to help newbies get the bike rolling. Now we’ll begin looking at some of the fancier stuff; like popping a wheelie. Some of this will help you get more out of Twitter, some will help you work faster, some will help you look like a Twitter Jedi Master.
This time we will look at hash tags.
What Is a Hash Tag?
A hash tag is any word you care to use that is prefaced by a hash mark (#) like #hashtag. When you run across them in tweets, they will be blue text, indicating that they are a link.
What Is a Hash Tag For?
Twitter created this system in order to make groups possible within Twitter without having to redesign the whole system. Hash tags allow people to easily search for other tweets on a particular topic.
Apparently it all started during the 2007 San Diego Fire when Nate Riter included the term “#sandiegofire” in each of his fire update reports, making a unique search term that followers could use to easily find his reports. Twitter implemented a system that recognizes the hashtag and immediately turns it into an internal link that, if clicked upon, will jump to a search results page listing tweets containing that hash tag.
How is that useful? Let’s say you come across a tweet that is interesting and includes the term #mugwumps. If you click on the hash tag #mugwumps it will take you to other tweets about mugwumps. If you are writing a tweet that includes a link to an article or book you have written about mugwumps, including the hash tag #mugwumps will help others interested in mugwumps to find your tweet and thus your article or book.
Substitute any topic of interest for mugwumps. At the end of the Nuts & Bolts article I included a list of 40 popular hash tag terms for writers and authors. If you are looking for a new book to read and you want it to be a thriller, type #thriller into the twitter search window click the magnifying glass and Twitter will give you a list of tweets talking about “thrillers”. Scan that list to see what piques your interest.
How Do I Use Hash Tags?
There is no rule book on hash tags. Put a # in front of any single word and it becomes a hash tag. Do capitalization and punctuation change the term? I ran a test using #scifi, #sci-fi, #SciFi and #Sci-Fi. The two hyphenated terms broke at the hyphen, searching only on #sci. #Sci and #sci produced the same list of results. Likewise #scifi and #SciFi produced the same list of results, but these lists were different from the lists produced by #Sci. I conclude that capitalization does not matter and punctuation is not allowed. This was verified by an article I found on known issues with hash tags that stated that hyphens, underscores, periods, colons, etc., will not be included. Apparently the exclusion of periods and colons riled up the scientific set who wanted to use terms such as #taxonomy:binomial. No I don’t know what that means either, but they can’t use it anyway.
There is an under-movement that dislikes hash tags (probably the jilted scientific set) and will unfollow you for excessive use; they say including hash tags, especially within the text of the tweet is distracting and annoying. They say instead of writing:
I just wrote a #horror #novel please come check it out.
You should do it this way.
My latest novel is out, please have a look. #horror
I have to say that the former is more distracting than the latter, and overuse of embedded hash tags may seem spammy. I have been guilty of committing this error myself, and will immediately endeavor to reform. My apologies to anyone who was offended.
Before creating a hash tag for something that may be available already, try doing a key-word search to see if any tweets show up using a hash tag. Using a similar variation of a term already in use will set you up in your own group, not get you in with the rest of them. If you want to hook up with others who share an interest, search for an existing hash tag before making one up. If you want to set yourself apart, make up something unique.
Can you use hash tags in your profile bio? Yes, but clicking on them will still pull up tweets containing that hash tag. If that suits your purposes, feel free, but be careful not to pack too many in there or others may see you as a huckster and pass you by. Creating a unique term that will link all of your tweets on a specific topic to a hash tag in your bio would be useful if you were, say, a mugwump specialist. But to use #author in your bio is probably superfluous.
Specialized Uses for Hash Tags
You may have seen announcements for twitter interviews, discussions or Q&A sessions scheduled for a particular day and time. They use hash tag terms to keep the group together. You join by searching for the hash tag being used. Let’s say the American Mugwump Association will have a discussion of the brown bearded mugwump next Saturday at 1:00 eastern time. To get in on it, at the appointed day and time (adjusted for your location) type”#mugwump” in the search window at the top of your Home screen and click the little magnifying glass button. This will pull up a search results page for that term. Everyone participating in the discussion will have to include #mugwump in their tweet or it will not show up in the search results. As new tweets are posted, the little update bar at the top of the tweet list (timeline) will say something like “40 new Tweets” click the bar to refresh the list with the new tweets.
Using a unique hash tag, as Nick Riter did allows others to search out your tweets on that topic very easily where searching on a keyword may not yield all the required results. He may not have included “San Diego Fire” in every tweet so searching on that term would not get them all. But by including his pioneer hash tag in every fire update, they would be included.
What Does This Hash Tag Mean?
When you run across a hash tag whose meaning is not evident, probably an acronym (like #WHMPO) and you want to know what it means, try these sources:
- Tagref Hashtag reference: A searchable glossary
- Hashtags.org Enter the tag and click search
- Tagdef Tag dictionary, add your own.
That pretty much covers the basics.
If you want to dig deeper, here is a list of resources I’ve assembled.
- Twitter Hashtags: Nonprofits Speak Up by Devon Smith
- An Introduction to Twitter Hashtags on Wild Apricot Blog
- Top Twitter Hashtags for Ebook Publishers on Publish Your Own Ebooks
- Groups for Twitter or a Proposal for Twitter Tag Channels Felgi by Chris Messina (Discussing the use of the hash # character)
- Channels Will Improve the Twitter Experience by Brian Solis
- Twitter Hashtags: A Quickie by Stephanie Booth
- Twitter hashtags for emergency coordination and disaster relief by Chris Messina
- Speaking at San Diego BarCamp 2007 by Nate Ritter (account of tweeting #sandiegofire information)
- What does # mean in a twitter post? All about octothorpetags. by Edward Vielmetti
- We’ve changed the way hashtags work by hashtags.org
- Tag Silo – Twitter Hashtags by Rod Edwards
- Making the most of hashtags by Chris Messina
- Making sense of Twitter by David Weinberger
- Hashtags for my Followees by Stephanie Booth
- Introduction to hashtag by Bwana
- Hashtagging Challenges When Events Occur at Different Times in Different Locations by Ontario Emperor (what the Rose Parade teaches us about hashtagging)
- Hashtags by Stephen Downes
- Twitter, Hashtag and 1 letter Taxonomy by Mahesh CR
- Why I Unfollow People Who Use Hashtags On Twitter by Dave Coustan (hashtags and “human” communication)
- Twitter needs better message tracking options by Emil Sit
- Live-tweeting an event? Set your hashtag UP FRONT! by Amy Gahran (when should an event hashtag be defined?
- How To: Use #Hashtags on Twitter by Montana Flynn
- Sponsored Hashtags by Adam Ostrow
- Studying Twitter and the Moldovan protests by Ethan Zuckerman.
- (empo-tymshft) #oow09 #hashtag emergence and standardization FTL by John E. Bredehoft (thoughts on adopting hashtags for events)