how to:How To Use Hashtags on Twitter to Spread, Share and Organize Information
Hashtags are words or phrases prefixed with the 'hash' or 'pound' symbol (#), similar to category tags on a blog, and are used in Tweets to add context. An example is #nptech, a hashtag for Tweets about the use of technology by nonprofit organizations.
Twitter itself did not create hashtags. The microblog’s community of users first began using them in 2007 as a way to aggregate and track content by subject or keyword. During the San Diego, California, forest fires in 2007, blogger and digital strategist Nate Ritter used the hashtag "#sandiegofire" to identify his updates related to the disaster.
Nowadays, hashtags are a ubiquitous part of the Twitter experience. They have been used to organize and coordinate protests (#pman in Moldova, #demo2010 in the UK), to share news and raise awareness during crises (#iranelection and #neda during the Iranian election crisis, #Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, #oilspill and #gulf during the Gulf Oil Spill in the United States), and for general news and information sharing (#ict4d for all things ICTs for development, #nptech for Tweets related to nonprofit technology). That said, governments have become much savvier about monitoring Twitter for activists' plan. Remember that authorities can be quick to figure out your plans simply by monitoring a hashtag.
In the steps below, learn how you can strategically use hashtags to add value to your campaign or event, or to organized tweets around a particular topic. Share your own tips below on how you use hashtags.
First, ask yourself how creating and using a hashtag will add value for yourself and your Twitter followers.
Nonprofit manager Devon Smith identifies at least 5 functions of hashtags:
- To keep track of an ongoing conversation (#nonprofit)
- To broadcast the happenings of a one time event, conference, or emergency (#haiti)
- To get into Twitter’s list of trending topics (#justinbieber)
- To comment on the intent of the post (#ironic)
- To provide additional metadata about the tweet, such as location or speaker (#NYC)
Hashtags can also be used to crowdsource information, create buzz, inspire conversations, promote campaigns, and share knowledge and resources as a community of practice. What function will your hashtag serve? What is your intention behind using a hashtag? The most important first step is to decide how your hashtag will connect to your purpose. If you're launching a campaign to build awareness around an issue, your hashtag should be clearly related to that issue, easy to remember, and only used in the context of Tweets about that issue.
Do a little research first to see if the hashtag you have in mind is already an established one. Does the subject you are going to be Tweeting about already have a hashtag associated with it?
Check out hashtag trending services to search for the hashtag and see if others are using it. Also, make sure taht the hashtag you want to use doesn’t already have another meaning.
Twitter Search: The simplest way to search Twitter trends.
What the Trend?: Search for and learn about trending hashtags.
Twubs: Use their wiki system to find information on a hashtag.
Hashtags.org: Check the use of a hashtag over time and recent tweets using it.
Tagalus: A hashtag dictionary.
Decide what your hashtag will be. Make it short so it's easy to fit in 140 characters and make it easy to remember! That means no weird spelling or awkward phrases. The word or phrase you choose for your hashtag should be related to the event, conference or information you are Tweeting about. For example, at the recent International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2010), the hashtag #ictd2010 was used. And when protesters were organizing in the UK over tuition cuts, the hashtags #demo2010 and #solidarity were used.
If your hashtag includes two or more words, it’s a good idea to capitalize each word’s initial letter. For example, if I want to create a hashtag for “Help Pakistan” I would use #HelpPakistan, not #helppakistan. This makes the hashtag more legible.
When you begin Tweeting with the hashtag, give some context by providing a quick explanation about what it means. Then, use the hashtag judiciously and strategically. If you overuse hashtags, you risk diluting their usefulness. Remember to ask yourself: how will the inclusion of a hashtag add value?
If a number of people in your organization are using Twitter to promote an event or campaign, make sure everyone is aware of the hashtag and uses it consistently.
Share the hashtag with others! Spread the word on your website and social media channels, Twitter feed, and in person. This will make it much easier for you and others to track the conversation.
Set up a Twilert to receive regular email updates of tweets containing your hashtag.