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An Introduction to Twitter Hashtags

Tagging helps to organize and share our online information with others. By attaching one or more keywords to a Flickr photograph, for example, we group it together with others that have the same tag. Hashtags serve a similar purpose on Twitter, the social micro-blogging service. The aim is to bring some order to Twitter users' published updates ("tweets") and make it easier to follow a topic of interest. And you don't necessarily have to be a Twitter user to get a benefit from hashtags.

How to Use Hashtags

1. Follow the @hashtags Twitter user (http://twitter.com/hashtags). It will follow you back automatically, and this enables the service to recognize and index your hashtags.

[updated 29 March 2009: In the year since this post was written, some things have changed -- hashtags have gone from marginal to mainstream, with many more ways to track the tags (Twitter's finally got itself a good Search function, for one thing) and it's no longer necessary to follow @hashtags in order to benefit by using hashtags.]

2. Create a hashtag by adding a hash symbol (#) to the front of an appropriate keyword as you write your Twitter update (for example, #nptech).

3. Track the tagged conversations that interest you. Twitter updates that include a valid hashtag are indexed at Hashtags.org, organized by tag, and available as individual RSS feeds. This means that you don't have to be a Twitter user to follow the conversation — it's visible to anyone.

Note that each hashtag index has its own web address and feed, distinguished by a word at the end of those URLs that matches the hashtag keyword.

The nptech tag is often used on other platforms to tag content related to nonprofit technology topics, and this has started to show up as a hashtag on Twitter as well.

Whenever #nptech is used as a hashtag in a Twitter update, that update will be automatically added to http://hashtags.org/tag/nptech/ -- and the corresponding RSS feed at http://hashtags.org/feeds/tag/nptech/.

[updated 29 March 2009: or, as mentioned, you can now find hashtags of interest via Twitter's own search function, as well as a number of other external sites: see http://search.twitter.com/search?q=#nptech for example.]

You can choose to subscribe to the RSS feed for your favourite tagged Twitter updates,  such as those that have been tagged with #nptech.

That will send any new #nptech-tagged updates from Twitter to your favourite news reader (e.g. Google Reader, Bloglines, etc.).

As well as subscribing to an RSS feed for any tagged Twitter topic, you can re-publish the feed on your own website, archive it for future reference, combine it with other feeds to make a custom feed — and countless other possible uses.

Less is More

Hashtags are community-driven, so their ability to deliver what you're seeking will be determined by how effectively the community chooses to use a tag.  For example, #sandiegofire set the standard for the use of hashtags by a Twitter group to track news of a major catastrophe and to mobilize real-world resources to help those affected.

That said, not all Twitter users are welcoming hashtags with open arms:
"What's #irritating about #this sentence?

Dave Coustan's position is that Twitter should be about human conversation, not about writing for databases. "Imagine what Flickr would look like if all of the metadata was visually stuck to your photograph," he says. "Or what your blog would look like if you had to have a character before every word in your text that was also a keyword. Ick."

Certainly, as with any social-tagging system, hashtags have a potential for overuse and abuse that could dilute the effectiveness of any particular tag. Because the hashtags user must "follow" another user in order for that user's hashtags to work, however, a spammer or michief-maker could be "unfollowed" and thus dropped from the index.

Hashtag etiquette is still evolving, so let good social manners be your guide. It is a rare "tweet" that deserves a hashtag, so tag only those updates that you feel will add significant value to the conversation. One hashtag is best — two are permissable — but three hashtags seem to be the absolute maximum, and risk raising the ire of the community. Tag sparingly, and with careful discretion.

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Posted by 

Published Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 12:50 PM


  • Nick Cernis

    Nick Cernis said:

    Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 6:43 AM

    I had no idea this feature existed! Thanks ever so much for the step-by-step idiot-proof write up, Rebecca.

  • Aaron Farnham

    Aaron Farnham said:

    Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 7:52 AM

    Nice write up! I think following the etiquette described is essential for hashtags to be acceptable in tweets. Additionally, I would suggest using either 1 tag at the very beginning or at the very end in most cases and try not to litter the middle of the tweet with #'s.

  • Rebecca said:

    Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 12:34 PM

    @Nick, I think most of us are only just becoming aware of hashtags, they're so new. Nifty feature, eh?

    @Aaron, thanks for commenting - it's great to have the word on hashtag etiquette coming straight from "the Hashtags.org guy"!

  • nancy (aka money coach)

    nancy (aka money coach) said:

    Saturday, 15 March 2008 at 9:35 PM

    I had no idea!  Just vaguely wondered why people used them.  Thanks for bringing me in the loop.  btw, really solid content on your blog.  Tx for the posts! I'm adding it to my bookmarks (for whatever reason,  I still prefer visiting sites rather than rss)

  • Rebecca said:

    Thursday, 20 March 2008 at 5:02 AM

    @Nancy, thank you. I'm really intrigued by your remark about visiting a website vs. subscribing by RSS - the information is the same, but the two methods of reading it are quite different experiences, aren't they?  

  • Colin Campbell

    Colin Campbell said:

    Thursday, 20 March 2008 at 9:58 AM

    Interesting. I use twitter infrequently, but I can see how that could be useful for some people.

    I also like to visit blogs rather than to view in a reader. I just think that it is more personal. Quality rather than quantity. I am just about to purge my reader list to a relatively small group.

    Nice useful blog.

  • Rebecca said:

    Monday, 24 March 2008 at 2:22 PM

    Thanks for taking the time to visit the Wild Apricot blog, Colin!

  • Justin

    Justin said:

    Wednesday, 25 June 2008 at 4:15 AM

    I have been using it for a while. Great to see a post explaining it. I like to track local terms to see who is on twitter that is local.

  • Rebecca said:

    Wednesday, 25 June 2008 at 10:22 AM

    Justin, good tip - it makes sense to use hashtags for organizing by geographic area as well as by area of interest.

  • Rithban

    Rithban said:

    Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 7:48 PM

    Thanks for writing this up. It's hard to keep up with the rapid evolution of social networking tools.

  • Ben Dunn

    Ben Dunn said:

    Saturday, 06 December 2008 at 11:09 PM

    I'd love to use hashtags but hastags.org keeps crashing when I try and find hashtags that I would be interested in following. Are there any other sites I could/should use ?

  • Rebecca said:

    Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 8:34 AM

    Ben, you can use http://search.twitter.com to find hastags or any other names, keywords, etc., and if you want to, you can get alerts (much like Google Alerts) sent to you using http://TweetBeep.com - two really useful tools for tracking Twitter conversations!

  • Andrew Beeston

    Andrew Beeston said:

    Thursday, 12 February 2009 at 6:06 PM

    Hey Rebecca - nice introduction to Hashtags, I just started HashDictionary.com - a dictionary for Twitter and its hashtags. Especially useful if you see something like #nptech and have no idea what it means.

    Hopefully a help for people!

  • Jon Lyles

    Jon Lyles  said:

    Friday, 13 February 2009 at 5:38 AM

    Prior to reading this article I had no clue. I kept seeing the hashtags and after a while I wanted to be in the know. Your article has done this for me. I am now in the know. Thank you.

    PS:Have you written an article on how to republish the feeds?


  • Rebecca said:

    Friday, 13 February 2009 at 5:23 PM

    Andrew, interesting project you've got there!

    Jon, I'm not quite sure what you're looking for - how to publish a hashtag RSS feed on your website? How to republish it on Twitter? If you can clarify, I'll be glad to try to help out.

  • Webby37

    Webby37 said:

    Monday, 16 February 2009 at 9:27 AM

    Need some help--I'm using hash tags all the time, but they've yet to come up! Specifically, it's the tag #ActualQuoteFromClass. It's not showing up in hashtags (http://hashtags.org/tag/ActualQuoteFromClass) but I've added them to my twitter so long ago. What's up? Any ideas?


  • Rebecca said:

    Monday, 16 February 2009 at 10:36 AM

    webby37, did you begin following the Twitter user @hashtags first? That's the most common cause of hashtags not being picked up.

  • Webby37

    Webby37 said:

    Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 9:00 AM

    I actually had. Then I stopped following, re-followed, and tried again, yet nothing.


  • Rebecca said:

    Tuesday, 17 February 2009 at 9:17 AM

    Webby37, best bet is to contact hashtags.org to say you're experiencing a glitch with their service.

  • Josh

    Josh said:

    Thursday, 19 February 2009 at 7:56 AM

    Some of the hashtag names don't make sense to a newbie like me.  How do you know what the hashtag is referring to and how it is to be used?

    Is there a wiki or something out there?  I tried HashDictionary.com, but couldn't find a list of hashtags and couldn't figure out how the search worked there.


  • Rebecca said:

    Thursday, 19 February 2009 at 8:07 AM

    Sure, Josh - Tagalus http://tagal.us and Tagref http://thebounder.co.uk/tagref/ will both help you find the meanings of different hashtags; and there's a wiki for hashtag fans at http://twitter.pbwiki.com/Hashtags

  • Mark Alan Effinger

    Mark Alan Effinger said:

    Sunday, 22 February 2009 at 1:42 PM

    Excellent, Rebecca. As a frequent tweeter, I find that hashtag abuse is becoming more and more frequent. Your 1-2-3 hashtag rule is a wonderful guidline. Add Aaron's comment on placing hashtags at either beginning or end of your tweets, and the formula is complete.

    I'll promote this shortly. Well done.



  • Mike Templeton

    Mike Templeton said:

    Friday, 27 February 2009 at 9:15 AM

    @Josh: To remedy the situation of not having a good, centralized database of hashtag definitions, Microblink launched What the Hashtag?! earlier today that is a user-edited hashtag encyclopedia. We watch for trending hashtags on Twitter and will auto-generate entries for them. Then its up to the users to fill in the details on what it means.


    We're indexing over 500 hashtags so far and are growing every hour. Feel free to stop in and look up a hashtag the next time you are puzzled by what one of them means. We'd love to get feedback on how we can improve it and help the hashtagging Twitter community.

    In addition to promoting a hashtag on sites like Delicious, Flickr and YouTube, we hope you’ll consider setting up a page at What the Hashtag?! as well. We’ve built http://whatthehashtag.com as a user-edited encyclopedia for Twitter hashtags, that way its easy for Twitter bystanders to get updated on what a hashtag stands for, in case it isn’t quite so obvious (as in your #TRAM08 example).

  • Erica Grigg

    Erica Grigg said:

    Wednesday, 04 March 2009 at 11:01 AM

    Thanks so much, Rebecca. Starting #GreenBiz to help social entrepreneurs and ethically and socially-minded business people to comment/question on business development.

    Really glad to see your great overview. Helped loads!


  • Heidi Strom Moon

    Heidi Strom Moon said:

    Friday, 06 March 2009 at 8:46 AM

    This is great, and very comprehensive.

    I wrote a blog post on hashtags also (http://blog.cdginteractive.com/my_weblog/2009/02/let-the-hashtag-be-your-guide.html) and I wish I'd included screen shots, as you did.

  • NimbleRunner

    NimbleRunner said:

    Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 6:25 AM

    Readit, read it again, and read it again. Still don't get it!

    So what if add a #here what good does it do me or anyone else. Where does it go, what does it do, how does it do it, WHY does it do it?

  • Rebecca said:

    Wednesday, 11 March 2009 at 7:04 AM

    NimbleRunner, hashtags are quite simply a way of tagging Twitter conversations - much as you might add tags to blog posts or to the bookmarks you save on Delicious.com - to make those "tweets" easier to find and follow.

    One person using an isolated hashtag has limited value to anyone but them. The real value comes when a number of Twitter users adopt a certain hashtag by consensus to label their "tweets" that are on a certain topic. The hashtag #sbbuzz (http://hashtags.org/tag/Sbbuzz) for example is used by participants to track a weekly Twitter chat about technology in small business.

    Hope that helps!

  • Wild Apricot Blog

    Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 12:16 PM

    There are many ways to publish any RSS feed on your own website — Feedburner’s BuzzBoost feature, and Widgetbox, for example, among a host of other methods including a Google Docs trick — but lately I’ve been using a free service called Feed Informer,

  • marcoscu

    marcoscu said:

    Monday, 16 March 2009 at 11:07 AM

    Thanks for a fantastic and easy to understand guider to this emerging internet trend. I just wish hashtags.org was running quicker!

  • Rebecca said:

    Monday, 16 March 2009 at 5:09 PM

    You're very welcome, marcoscu. I've noticed a big increase in the use of hashtags lately - it's possible that hashtags.org is laboring under the extra load. Fortunately, you can also track hashtags by using Twitter's search function (http://search.twitter.com).

  • Kelvin

    Kelvin said:

    Monday, 16 March 2009 at 7:31 PM

    Hey Rebecca,

    As a new Twitter user I'm frequently perplexed by the use of various hashtags floating around the Twitterverse - and really had no idea what they were until I read your article. Even then I found they don't Google well and I have to take the time to get the 'gist' of each one.

    So I started a blog, MetaHash (http://MetaHa.sh) that gives a quick little quip on the top hashtags of the moment. If you have the time take a look, comment or follow and feel free to suggest any tags that are relevant to your cause that I might tag about. Thanks!

  • AltGirlfriend

    AltGirlfriend said:

    Wednesday, 18 March 2009 at 9:44 PM

    Thanks for the post!

    Just wondering, if I want to use a hashtag for a title or a proper name, which is the right way?? #The Union #TheUnion The#Union and

    #Douglas Coupland  #Douglas#Coupland  #Douglas #Coupland

  • Rebecca said:

    Thursday, 19 March 2009 at 10:15 AM

    AltGirlfriend, a hashtag should be all one word, without spaces - in your examples, I'd go with #DouglasCoupland and #TheUnion.

  • AltGirlfriend

    AltGirlfriend said:

    Thursday, 19 March 2009 at 11:06 AM

    Thanks Rebecca!  People are probably wondering why I've been hashtagging  the word "The" lol!

  • borgelillebo

    borgelillebo said:

    Thursday, 02 April 2009 at 12:45 AM

    is it possible to include a hashtag-topic in my twitter, i.e. follow a topic or search query?

  • Rebecca said:

    Thursday, 02 April 2009 at 4:11 AM

    I'm not completely sure what you mean, borgelillebo, but let's give this a shot --

    I notice that you've used the twitter tag #or4 recently, for example. Checking the tag on Twitter Search, we get this url -- http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23or4 -- which you could include in a tweet just as you would any other link. Giving people this link directly would make it easier for those who are new to hashtags (and especially your hashtag) to see who's using it and have an easy way to follow the conversation. Is that something like what you had in mind?

  • borgelillebo

    borgelillebo said:

    Thursday, 02 April 2009 at 11:18 PM

    Not exactly. I'll exemplify:

    If I want to be kept updated on JohnDoe's twitter I simply write "follow @JohnDoe". Thus are all of JohnDoe's twitter posts made available in my personal twitter.com/home. I don't have to look in twitter.com/JohnDoe to be kept updated. I would like to apply this simplicity to follow a topic, i.e. "follow #iphone", without having to go to "http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23iphone". Is it possible?

  • Rebecca said:

    Friday, 03 April 2009 at 1:08 PM

    Ah, gotcha! No, Twitter doesn't have that as a feature: you can only follow another account, not a hashtag or topic.

    If the conversation you're interested in following is a short-term current one, and it's updating too quickly for Twitter Search (and its RSS feed) to do the job, something like TweetChat might be more useful.

  • Sherley

    Sherley said:

    Friday, 10 April 2009 at 2:03 PM

    Great Post!

    Someone I'm following use it and I was curious so I Googled and found your post. Thanks and I will bookmark your blog for future reading.

  • Haiku_Twit

    Haiku_Twit said:

    Monday, 13 April 2009 at 10:40 AM

    Rebecca, do you have any info on why hashtags just stop working for some people?

    My personal situation is I have been following hashtags and am being followed by them and I have sucessfully used them in the past.  Now none of my hashtag posts seem to go through this week.  And I do not appear in their directory.  And judging from the feedback page this is happening to quite a few people, yet no one seems to be able to explain how to fix it.

  • Rebecca said:

    Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 3:48 PM

    Haiku_Twit, when you say hashtags aren't working, I assume you mean at the hashtags.org site? If so, I'm afraid that's a question the owners of the site will have to sort out...

    Fortunately, the variable situation at hashtags.org is not as large an issue as it might seem. If you note the update I made to this post, and a couple of earlier comments, you'll see that going through hashtags.org is no longer necessary, since Twitter added a search feature. You can simply enter your hashtag at http://search.twitter.com and then grab the RSS feed for the results page to track the conversation around that tag.

    If it's Twitter Search you're having problems with, the status page at Twitter (http://status.twitter.com/) is reporting a "latency" issue in the past few days - in other words, there's currently a delay in when tweets show up in the timeline and in the search results. Keep an eye on that status page if you see any other technical problems at Twitter, and at least you'll be able to know whether it's "just you" or a widespread issue that Twitter's aware of and working on.

  • Wild Apricot Blog

    Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 6:29 AM

    Want to learn more about Web 2.0 and the latest social media trends? Convio is hosting a free webinar

  • Rob Barton

    Rob Barton said:

    Thursday, 23 April 2009 at 6:48 AM

    This tells you how to make them but it really doesn't tell you what they are doing and how you can use them. It would be great if there was something that said What they are, how they are used and what they are used for, then how to use them from a practical view and finally how to make them.  This tells me basically that they exist and how to make one and nothing about what they actually do and how I could be helped by them. I was trying to find out how to use them and this is just frustrating instead of informative.

  • Rebecca said:

    Thursday, 23 April 2009 at 8:13 AM

    Rob, I'll be happy to try to answer any specific questions, if you'd like to post them here?

    But let's try this for a quick summary, in the meantime, because you do sound quite frustrated:

    Hashtags don't actually "do" anything by themselves... They serve as a label or tag for snippets of on-going conversations on Twitter, to help people keep track of a topic (most often useful as a label for tweeting about a real-world conference, a meme, or a virtual event of some kind). The best way to see it in action, as I suggested above, is to enter a hashtag into Twitter Search and see what the results show you. You can also use TweetChat.com to track hashtags more efficiently in a fast-moving conversation - it turns the stream of tweets that include your chosen hashtag into something almost like a chatroom.

    It may be that I am just not quite getting what it is about hashtags that's frustrating you - so please do bring questions, if I've not yet cleared this up for you.

  • Jen

    Jen said:

    Tuesday, 28 April 2009 at 1:11 PM

    Really great info!  I was using context clues to figure out what it was all about, but so nice to be assured I was assuming correctly!

  • Rebecca said:

    Tuesday, 28 April 2009 at 7:30 PM

    Glad you found this post useful, Jen!

  • ShawnVW

    ShawnVW said:

    Saturday, 02 May 2009 at 9:27 AM

    I'm new to Twitter, I've never used hashtags, and I'm not clear on something. Is a hashtag something I can follow? In other words, is there a way to have every tweet that mentions "#haiku" or "NoraRoberts" appear in my timeline?

  • Rebecca said:

    Saturday, 02 May 2009 at 9:38 AM

    ShawnVW, there's no way to follow a specific hashtag the same way that you'd follow a person on Twitter - but you can use Twitter's search to see all the tweets that contain a particular hashtag.  Today, for example, I am keeping an eye on what's happening at the SOBCon blogging conference by following the hashtag #sobcon here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23sobcon - have a look and I think you'll see how this works. It's particularly clear when you watch the  search stream for a hashtag that's associated with a trending topic or live event.

  • mel

    mel said:

    Saturday, 02 May 2009 at 7:12 PM

    I linked to you @appstotweet http://toptwitterapps.blogspot.com/

  • Mona

    Mona said:

    Friday, 08 May 2009 at 2:38 AM

    *sigh* I liked tagging and tag clouds. At least for social bookmarking. It was informal and was not regulated by any sort of collective intelligence, which was a huge flaw but it kind of worked. I didn't even know what a Hashtag was on Twitter before I just read another article linking to this one, about an hour ago. I'd noticed the stupid symbols though. I hate it. I think it sucks. It's not really very helpful in something designed like Twitter. It's not only annoying, it's reducing us to sounding like absolute idiots because we're attempting a type of communication that something like Twitter is not an effective medium for. The character limit and other limits are in place for reasons, and those I believe are valid in whatever capacity or whatever sense. But this is dumb. Just my opinon. And I'm not closed-minded, it's kind of weird that I don't like something like this.

    Oh well.

  • Christian Hermansen

    Christian Hermansen said:

    Friday, 22 May 2009 at 12:09 PM

    Hi, great reading. I have a question. Is it possible to create a feed from a hashtag to a blog? I hope some of you can help.


  • Rebecca said:

    Friday, 22 May 2009 at 12:37 PM

    You can use http://search.twitter.com to search a particular hashtag, and then grab the RSS feed for that search. Have a look at this post: http://www.wildapricot.com/blogs/newsblog/archive/2009/03/12/roll-your-own-rss-feed-digest-widget.aspx for ideas on how to actually display the RSS feed on your blog. Hope this helps!

  • RuPersonal

    RuPersonal said:

    Friday, 05 June 2009 at 2:50 AM

    Thanks for explaining this feature. Didn't have a clue about it either. The symbol... hmmm... it is somewhat annoying if overused, but let's see how it evolves.

  • Rebecca said:

    Friday, 05 June 2009 at 4:28 PM

    RuPersonal, glad to help! Hashtags have solidified their place on Twitter over the past year or so, although individual users may or may not choose to use them - and I do agree that overuse is annoying: 1 tag (or at the most 2) per tweet should be plenty.

  • Lori

    Lori said:

    Monday, 22 June 2009 at 3:22 PM

    Help. Tried everyone, everywhere & no luck so far. Tanks for the helpful # info. I've tried and tried and nothing. Following #hashtag, they r following me. I've tried and tried to use #hashtag and nothing. I've posted, re-posted and re-posted.... several times and nothing, anywhere. I've tried adding my own # and included the #hashtag in there and that didn't work.  I've emailed them and personally wanted to make sure they were following me, but shows I and they r following each other, and that didn't work. How can I get my #hashtag to show up? I've done search (In both searches) for my # and nothing. I've been @ this for a few weeks, daily, very frustrating. I know it's easy, but why doesn't it show up sometimes, in my case never.  Tanks so much. I've read ur info and very useful but didn't help me yet. help.

  • Rebecca said:

    Tuesday, 23 June 2009 at 6:23 PM

    Lori, I'm not sure what you mean by "tried to use #hashtag and nothing" - if my reply to Haiku_Twit's comment, above, didn't cover your situation. Can you clarify the problem?

    Lori, I just tracked you down (@HaidaPrincess) and ran a search on your #haidaart hashtag - and I do see what you mean. It shows 0 results for that search, which we know is wrong as I can see that hashtag in one of your recent tweets.

    Hashtags should show up in a Twitter Search just as any other text does, independently of whether or not you're following @hashtags (that's only related to whether your tag appears on Hashtags.org, which is much less important than when hashtags were first introduced).

    The problem appears to lie with Twitter, so contacting @hashtags won't help.

    On the bright side, you are not alone: this issue has been reported at GetSatisfaction (customer service site) by a number of people. You might want to add your report there too (http://getsatisfaction.com/twitter/topics/my_hashes_and_my_tweets_dont_appear), and keep an eye on that issue for workarounds or a resolution.

  • Alex Lim

    Alex Lim said:

    Wednesday, 24 June 2009 at 5:29 AM

    Twitter trending topics, search and related applicatins thrive on these hashtags, as they serve as noted keywords in the sea of tweets going through the microblogging platform. So determining the perfect hashtag is akin to creating the perfect title for a blog post.


  • Ken

    Ken said:

    Wednesday, 24 June 2009 at 12:58 PM

    I don't suppose you can use hash tags for twitter accounts that have "Protect my updates" setting can it?

  • Rebecca said:

    Wednesday, 24 June 2009 at 2:03 PM

    Hi Ken,  the short answer is, no, hashtags don't work for folks with protected updates.

    I picked someone I'm following on Twitter who (a) has protected updates and (b) used a hashtag recently, then did a search on that hashtag to see if her tweet might show up in the  results - which it did not.

    Which makes sense, if we think about it... Twitter Search just indexes the public tweets - and if you look at the home page of someone with protected updates, you'll see there isn't even an RSS feed for them.  So someone with protected updates (private tweets) can type a hashtag in a message and it will be seen by their 'allowed' followers who read the tweet, but that's as far as it goes.

  • Wild Apricot Blog

    Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Monday, 13 July 2009 at 5:15 AM

    An interesting question on Twitter hashtags came from one of our readers last week — "Our organization has been using a certain hashtag on Twitter. Now another organization has started to use the same hashtag. How can we handle that?"

  • 88keyman

    88keyman said:

    Wednesday, 22 July 2009 at 12:24 PM

    Here's what I'm still not clear on about hashtags: Suppose I'm writing on a topic concerning Iran. If I include the hashtag #Iran, how does that differ from merely using the word Iran in my Tweet? Wouldn't both come up equally in a search of the topic?

  • Rebecca said:

    Wednesday, 22 July 2009 at 5:58 PM

    88keyman, thanks for such an interesting question!

    My reply was a bit too long for here, so I've written you a post: Do Hashtags Help a Twitter Topic Search  -- do let me know if this helps to clear it up for you?

  • 88keyman

    88keyman said:

    Monday, 03 August 2009 at 6:09 PM

    Thanks, but I'm still unclear: It seems that hashtags only work when they already exist and have a substantial number of followers at the time you post your tweet. If you're the first to use a particular hashtag, then it won't designate participation in a conversation but rather will be arbitrary and disconnected from other people's tweets. If you aren't writing on a topic represented by an already-existing and prevalent hashtag (and how did it get to be already-existing and prevalent if being the first to use it is useless?), there doesn't seem to be any point to creating one. Yet if you don't use a hashtag, how would anyone other than a follower ever happen to see your tweet?

  • Rebecca said:

    Wednesday, 05 August 2009 at 6:58 AM

    88keyman, you're right that hashtags need a certain number of people to be using them if they are to be truly useful. For an individual to use an arbitrary hashtag is of no real benefit in getting seen and read.

    That said, anyone actively searching Twitter for any of the ordinary words that you use will still be able to find your tweets, theoretically, and Twitter is indexed by Google - so all is not lost there. Still, yes, it is your followers who are most likely to see your tweets - and even then, there's no guarantee. When people follow a great many others, they are unlikely to see everything that's tweeted when they aren't actively online and monitoring the stream.

    Back to hashtags - you'll perhaps have noticed, from time to time, the beginning of a conversation among Twitter users where one will propose a hashtag for that topic. And that's when hashtags work best - when a group of people agree together on what tag they're going to use for a specific purpose.

    Twitter chats and events are the best examples, perhaps. For example, many people working with associations are using #assnchat and #asae09 to refer to a weekly Twitter chat on topics of interest to associations and to the up-coming annual conference in Toronto, respectively.

    It might help to think of hashtags as similar to the tags you might use in social bookmarking sites, such as Del.icio.us and others. Tags serve a couple of purposes there:

    (1) if you use a tag that others are using or likely to search for, it can help them to find your bookmarks on that topic;

    (2) if you use idiosyncratic tags, your bookmarks are less likely to be seen by anyone who isn't a "friend" or monitoring your bookmarks account/feed, but it helps *you* to organize your own bookmarks; and

    (3) to a certain extent, theoretically, any tag used anywhere online (social networks, blogs, whatever) will help a search engine to identify your topic and possibly return it as a result for a relevant search.  

    (I'm equivocating on this last point because the possible SEO benefits of tagging depend greatly on the particular site, the particular search engine, what it's crawling/indexing, its algorithm to produce search results, and the amount of "competition" online for that particular tag/keyword.)

    On Twitter, then, you'd use hashtags for purposes (1) and/or (2).

  • Barbara Radisavljevic

    Barbara Radisavljevic said:

    Thursday, 27 August 2009 at 3:29 PM

    Thanks for a more thorough explanation of hashtags. I was wondering how to make a hashtag of more than one word, but now I see that I just have to run the words together. Makes it look strange, but I guess no stranger than the # symbol itself.

  • Wild Apricot Blog

    Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Friday, 28 August 2009 at 6:54 AM

    In this month’s round-up of the most popular association links at AssociationJam.org, we're bringing you two videos, two research reports, tips on tech tools, a commentary on a controversial ad campaign — and a host of takeaways from the 2009 Annual Meeting

  • Rebecca said:

    Friday, 28 August 2009 at 7:52 AM

    Barbara, glad to be helpful to you. If you have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask. And if I hit a wall on answers, Wild Apricot readers are pretty darned good at coming up with great solutions! :-)

  • bryan falls

    bryan falls said:

    Wednesday, 09 September 2009 at 3:06 AM

    how do i use a hash tag   when i use my tv stations tag (#alwx) they cant see my post do send it like a tweet or what

  • bryan falls

    bryan falls said:

    Wednesday, 09 September 2009 at 3:09 AM

    how do i use a hash tag   when i use my tv stations tag (#alwx) they cant see my post do send it like a tweet or what

  • Wild Apricot Blog

    Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Saturday, 12 December 2009 at 4:04 PM

    Twitter StreamGraphs is a Java-based visualization tool that gives you a colorful overview of the last 1000 tweets that come up in a search for any keyword, username, or list on Twitter. Pretty, yes, but is it truly useful for nonprofit organizations

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