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The What and Why of Hashtags

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Whenever I talk to people about how Twitter works, the topic of hashtags always pops up. A lot of people are confused about why they are used and what they are for. In this post I’ll be talking about some different uses of hashtags and then read how to use them yourself.

The official definition of a hashtag is this:

“A hashtag is any word or phrase immediately preceded by the # symbol. When you click on a hashtag, you’ll see other Tweets containing the same keyword or topic.”

To put it as simply as possible, by using hashtags, you become part of a larger conversation. By everyone using a particular hashtag when talking about the same thing, they become grouped  together.  This makes it easier to see what everyone is saying about that one topic in one place.

For example, it could be a television show everyone is watching and tweeting about (#xfactor) or  something that’s happening in the news (#royalwedding). Some are preplanned and serve a purpose, others are off the cuff, and serve no purpose other than to to categorise a tweet into a particular topic.  You’ll see examples of this in the trending topics on the left hand column in Twitter.

There are a lot of different ways people use hashtags, here are a few to give you an idea:

Humour
“Challenge” hashtags pop up in the trending topics fairly regularly.  It could be a “replace a word” hashtag such as #RuinANovelWithSocialMedia,   or #replaceamovietitlewithsynod which was floating around Twitter during February’s General Synod. Some of the creations included:

Hashtags are also commonly used at the end of a tweet as a sarcastic or ironic sidenote. For example:

Events
Conferences and events all now use a specific hashtag for people to use. They do this for a couple of reasons.

  1. Using the hashtag makes all tweets about the event incredibly easy to monitor, especially any feedback the organisers need to respond to
  2. It’s a great way for those unable to attend the event to keep track of what’s happening

Campaigns
Charities and organisations will use a hashtag to help spread their message such as #BringBackOurGirls, #NoMorePage3 or #AnotherGift. They can be used to motivate people to donate money (such as a challenge), or just used to combine all tweets about a certain campaign together, so they don’t get mixed up with other ongoing campaigns. Some are about taking action and others are about raising awareness.

Other Examples of hashtag usage:

#illRidewithYou – After the terrorist attacks in Sydney, people used the hashtag #illridewithyou to muslims who didn’t want to travel on public transport alone in case they were harassed or attacked.

#FoxNewsFacts – After a Fox News expert said Birmingham was a no go area for non-muslims, the hashtag #foxnewsfacts was created with some hilarious results as people invented other ‘facts’ from Fox News.

#PizzaOnATrain – thousands of people on twitter were captivated by comedian Chris Ramsey and his plan to get pizza delivered to a train during a journey to Newcastle

#MedicatedAndMighty – people used the hashtag to share photos of themselves holding their medication as well as stories and experiences to fight the stigma of mental illness.

You’ll notice with all these hashtags that there are no spaces in the words, that’s because a hashtag can only include characters and not spaces. Some people capitalise each word to make it easier to read. Also, whilst hashtags can include numbers, it doesn’t allow the use of special characters such as apostrophes, turning Didn’t or I’m into #Didnt and #Im.

 

Got any questions? Let me know in the comments below.
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