Last weekend, at the blogging panel (which, by the way, was a blast) during the question and answer period, a woman asked about hashtags – “what are they?”
A hashtag is just that little crossed symbol on your keypad that used to be called the number sign (#).
It’s used on social media (mostly Twitter but it’s on other sites, like Facebook, as well) as a way to do searches. Hashtagged words act as keywords in a search. Think about it, how many words do you know in the English language that start with #? I’m guessing that you can’t come up with many. Because of this, hashtags are used on the internet as a way to easily do searches.
Finding information with Hashtags
Let’s say I’m on Twitter and I want to join in the conversation around the recent World Cup event. I would enter #worldcup in the Twitter search box and the result would show me all the tweets that have this tag (and that theoretically have to do with the World Cup.) This is a great way to find out what is going on during a current news event (and which is why some countries are limiting Twitter during protests.)
On a more personal level, if I want to see recent tweets on chickens, I’m not going to just enter the word “chicken” because then I’ll see tweets on chicken nuggets, chicken recipes, and possibly tweets on frightened people.
However, if I search for #chicken then I’ll get only the tweets with that hashtag in them. This will narrow my search to that information that has been tagged (by the user) as having a “chicken” interest. (This, of course assumes that the original tweeter is using hashtags correctly.) This technique makes it easier to sift through the information and to make connections with people who have the same interests.
Sending information with Hashtags
Just as important as finding information is making sure that *your* information can be found. You do this by adding hashtags to the end of your tweet or social media message. Think of the keywords or important topics or themes that your tweet is talking about and then add them as hashtags.
For my personal blog, I might typically add some tags like, #chickens, #parenting, #roosters, #tinyhouses and #backyardpoultry. When I recently posted a tweet about a series I’m writing on Living Tiny in a Big House, I was prompted by Twitter to consider the hashtag #tinyhousenation. I figured if the prompt is there, then there is probably enough interest to consider it. I now add that hashtag to my tiny living tweets.
If I am tweeting about a post that I’ve written on this blog, I typically include hashtags like #writers and #authors or I might consider a hashtag specific to the topic. The hashtag for this post will be #hashtag.
Be careful not to get too detailed or too grand in your hashtags, don’t use things like #politics when you are talking about something specific in your state or town, in that case I’d use something like #NHpolitics. And likewise don’t talk about #beesinthebackyard when you really just mean #bees.
Other uses for Hashtags
Some people (and I have to admit that I’m guilty of this) use Hashtags as a way to make a snarky or humorous statement about something. For example, there might be a tweet about someone who has done something dumb with the hashtag #seewhatImean? I’ve also seen hashtags like #amIright? and funny joke statements like #firstbornproblems.
Be careful when using hashtags like this, as we all know, people do not share the same sense of humor and what may be funny to you may come across as offensive to someone else.
In summary, hashtags are a handy way to both find information and to send information on the internet. If you are sending information that you want people to read (as opposed to simply replying to an individual) make it a habit to routinely include at least one hashtag.
The easier you make it to find your information, the more likely it will get found.
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.