Hashtags Demystified…

[Update: As of January 9th, 2012 TwapperKeeper is now fully integrated with the HootSuite dashboard. This means the core functionality you now enjoy for archiving your tweets is available alongside your other social networks and profiles. ]

A friend of mine called me up earlier today and said “Can you tell me about this hashtag thing? I really need to understand it for my business, and haven’t a clue where to start.” Rather than keeping the information between “just the two of us,” I decided to write a quick post and show you just what hashtags are capable of doing.

Hashtags are a quick and easy way of organizing information on Twitter. Due to some tools that allow you to post on multiple social networks at once (like Hootsuite and TweetDeck), you’ll find hashtags used on other social networks as well, but they were first used with Twitter and there are Twitter-related sites that make them extremely powerful. Thus, the examples I use in this blog post will all be Twitter-oriented.

So, first – What is a hashtag? Wiktionary defines it as: A tag embedded in a message posted on a microblogging service, consisting of a word within the message prefixed with a hash sign (#).

Now that that’s clear, let’s move on. Oh! Wait! It didn’t make sense? Okay. Let’s try again. If I want to highlight certain terms in a tweet as keywords in my text, I start them with a hash sign. The combination of the hash sign and the word that immediately follows it is my “hashtag.” So, when I tweet something about my brand (Aleweb Social Marketing), I use a hashtag of #Aleweb to highlight that keyword.

A common use of hashtags is to refer to virtual and real-world events (like TweetChats, conferences, SXSW, etc.). People interested in finding out what everyone’s saying about that event will search for the hashtag and see a running stream of commentary filtered on that one subject. Brown Estate, a winery in Napa Valley, created the #brownzin hashtag to put on the label of their 2009 Napa Zin label to facilitate conversation among the various people who enjoy that particular wine, and they’re tweeting about it to this very day!

Job seekers in Connecticut may want to watch the hashtag pair “#jobs #ct” or “#hiring #ct” to learn more about openings that exist within the state. You can filter that further by adding a tag for the field or specific location that you want. For example, “#hartford #ct #jobs.” There are also folks out there doing all they can to help those who are unemployed find gainful employment. Try taking a look at #findajobfriday, #hirefriday, and #jobangels. [Tip: Twitter is a great tool in the job search because many recruiters will post a job opening on Twitter, which is free to use, before paying to post the opening on a job board. Therefore, you can learn about some openings before they’re even posted anywhere by watching for them on Twitter.]

How do I create a hashtag? Well, you create one by simply starting to use it. There’s no place to register a tag. You start using it, and invite your followers use it too. Over time, this leads to greater visibility, especially when you actively promote its use, like Brown Estate did by including the tag on their labels.

Sometimes, multiple hashtags appear that all relate to the same thing (like #job and #jobs, and #FollowFriday and #ff). Remember that the hashtag counts in your character count for your tweet. So, you want something short and sweet, but meaningful. Play around with searching for the hashtag you want to create. If it’s not in use, run with it and let others know what it means, and encourage them to use it too!

Finally, how do I search for a hashtag? Well, there are all sorts of ways to do that. You can use search.twitter.com to search for the hashtag. You can use the search box in Hootsuite and other applications. You can also use Tweetchat or Twubs to monitor conversations taking place around a given hashtag. (When you use Tweetchat, you have less than 140 characters to work with, because TweetChat automatically appends the tag you’re following to your tweet.)

How else can hashtags help me? You can also use other sites like BlastFollow to automatically follow everyone who’s using a particular hashtag. Or you can create an RSS feed of a hashtag for posting on your website or pulling into your Facebook newsfeed. You can use Storify to create a story out of a collection of posts for archiving and sharing purposes, and you can use TwapperKeeper to periodically archive hashtag posts so that nothing gets lost over time.

A hashtag by itself is a simple thing. But what you do with it is as rich and powerful as you make it. Promote your business. Find a job. Attend a conference. Learn something new. The choice is yours!

And when you share this post, try adding #Aleweb to it. Then see what everyone else is saying and join the conversation!