Social Networks

Why Twitter Hashtags Are The Best Things Since Sliced Bread

The # (pound) symbol is called a hashtag and is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet. It was created by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages and then adopted by Twitter and third-party tools. Because hashtags are hyperlinked on and are searchable, they serve as a form of findability. Precursors to Twitter hashtags: tags on Delicious and Flickr.

In the beginning, there weren’t enough people or tweets to worry about organization.

But as Twitter took off in popularity, organization became a need.

Chris was inspired by hashtag/keyword use at Delicious, Flickr and Jaiku and championed the practice.

By December 2007, there was an unofficial directory: The fall of 2008 saw House Republicans elevate #dontgo as a rallying cry. By January 2013, the American Dialect Society had voted hashtag as its word of the year.

Hashtags are like Twitter’s Swiss Army knife. They help organizers promote events and help participants share information with people who are present or just interested. They alert us to breaking news. They introduce levity and humor. They serve as a calling card for communities, some that chat at designated times each week or month and some that share information without regard for the clock.

In short, hashtags — this un-library-like, bottoms-up taxonomy — provide an important form of structure for finding information in the firehose that is the Twitter livestream.

Key things to know about Twitter hashtags

  • Capitalization doesn’t matter but spaces, punctuation and special characters do (don’t use ’em).
  • Hashtags must have letters; all numbers will not work so append them to your letters.
  • Placement doesn’t matter.
  • Sometimes hashtags are intended as editorial commentary rather than as a method of findability.
  • Hashtags associated with breaking news or crises are often trending topics. For example, #welcometotheworld (for the new royal baby).
  • Although hashtags were popularized on Twitter, they are now incorporated on many other digital social networks like FacebookInstagram and Google+.

Best practices

Learn more about hashtags, see examples, find Twitter chats, check out directories.

Featured image (Flickr CC)

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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