Hashtags – the quick overview

A colleague asked me to help an undergrad student learn to use hashtags in Twitter. My first inclination was to suggest a bit of learning-by-doing-the-research-yourself, but before giving that answer I decided to do a quick search and see if an easy answer was readily available. To my surprise, it seemed that while it’s easy to find a lot of overly complex and/or kind of outdated information, some of the basic concepts were a bit buried.

So, I’ve decided to write a brief list of hashtag pointers and post it here.

– a hashtag is a word (or string of words with no spaces) beginning with the # symbol
– you can find lists of commonly used hashtags, but anyone can create a hashtag at any time so it’s a very dynamic and flexible tool.

– there are many ways to use twitter (twitter.com, tweetdeck, cellphone apps, etc.) and all have ways that you can search and sort via hashtags.

– If you use twitter.com from your browser, clicking on a hashtag in any tweet is an easy way to search for other tweets that use the same hashtag.

Here are some twitter screenshots with hashtag examples (and my explanation of a likely reason why the tweeter used them):

tweetTweeter Shannon Miller has used the #Educon hashtag to refer to an educational conference. Using hashtags to tweet about conferences is a great way for everyone, whether they’re attending or not, to keep up with what’s going on during keynotes and other conference events. Many conferences provide an agreed-upon hashtag so all tweeters can use the same one. It can be really interesting to follow a conference stream of tweets in this way.

tweetTweeter Joe Bower has used two hashtags in his tweet. #Edchat and #edtech are basically twitter ‘conversations’. You can participate in real time as these conversations usually have a set “meeting time” but you can also search the tags at a later point (but not too much later because after a few days tweets might not show up in your searches) to see what happened.  For a previous blog posting of mine mentioning edchat, see https://elizabethtweets.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/edchat/

Hashtags are useful to keep track of current events as well.

Airport codes (yyj is Victoria BC) are often used so that region-specific tweets are easy to find and in this case, the #yyj tag is much better than #Victoria because “Victoria” could be a person’s name, a place in Australia, etc.  Also, the airport codes are nice and short so they don’t use up too many of those precious 140 characters.

This is my tweet, and I’m using two hashtags that have been created by other tweeters. Sir Ken Robinson set up the #askSKR as a way for him to track when people ask him questions. The #sirken tag came to my attention when Joe Bower set up his blogathon.

– Tweets can include as many hashtags as will fit in the 140 characters, but hashtags can be overused which makes the message difficult to read. There are no rules about this, but common sense will probably tell you if your tweet looks cluttered.

– Hashtags can be used as a way for you to find those “kindred spirits” you should be following. For instance, I have found people I’ve wanted to follow because they tweet about creativity and use the #sirken hashtag to reference Sir Ken Robinson.

About.com isn’t bad for a quick overview:

and if you want to see a graph of the usage frequency of any hashtag — take a look here

New link April 2012 http://www.bluefocusmarketing.com/blog/2012/04/10/the-twitter-hashtag-is-the-new-neon-sign/

New link January 2013 – a very nice overview of several features of Twitter.

3 Responses to Hashtags – the quick overview

  1. Good overview. I am currently doing my thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in the formation and development of personal learning networks. I am still early into the analysis, but one of the early themes that seems to be emerging is around the importance of hashtags as a boundary spanning element of a PLN in that, by following certain hashtags, it introduces people to other people who are interested in the same sorts of ideas/topics that they are.

  2. Hi Clint,

    Your thesis topic sounds really interesting and I hope I can see more of it as it progresses.

    I completely agree that we’re connecting in new ways because of social media. Twitter, in particular, seems to have amazing potential for us to “feel the heartbeat” of events as they are happening. We need different skills and hopefully the case will be made that these skills can be part of K-12 education and beyond.

    Here’s a cute little article that I found interesting because it touches on how the purpose of hashtags has changed through people’s whimsy and creativity. Twitter is very organic and I love that it’s the opposite of structured categorization and hierarchical organization of information (the stuff I was taught back in the day….)

  3. Ha! Thanks for the New Yorker article. I do that often – hashtag as punchline.

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