What is a Twitter Hashtag?

By Liam Foy

Now… before I start I understand I might be preaching to the converted but Hashtag etiquette, or the lack of, is beginning to grate on me BIG time. The biggest culprit is the celeb world but it’s apparent the Hashtag is one of the most complexed parts of Twitter for new users.

How did the Hashtag begin…

Let’s go back to the start. Where did the Hashtag come from? A guy called Chris Messina and this blog post to be specific. In 2007, Messina discussed and proposed in his blog post that Twitter use the “#” symbol to group topics of conversations into what he describes as “channels” – or to simply associate a tweet with a location or event. To cut a long story short – check GigaOM for the full story – users began adopting hashtags more and more with the 2007 San Diego Forest Fires and a vote on energy to keep Congress open proving to be the moment the Hashtag broke out from the “geekosphere”, as Messina describes.

In today’s world a Hashtag is just as Messina proposed in 2007. A way of grouping topics on conversations – if you click on a Hashtag you will access everyone else’s tweets that have the same Hashtag.

Hashtags are great for finding like-minded people, more information on a certain topic or to gain maximum exposure. As a Community Manager I want to seek out the Hashtags that are being used the most because that is where the conversations are happening, conversations I want to be a part of.

Hashtag #beef…

Here’s the beef. When I see the likes of Matt Dawson – I’m a fan of his rugby ability by the way – using #chancetooverstepthemark or #somethingtotellkids I feel liking throwing myself over the edge. Now, to avoid sounding bitter (is it too late?) here’s why…

If you click the Hashtag #chancetooverstepthemark there is a “massive” one person in the “channel”… Matt Dawson.

If you click #somethingtotellkids there is two people… Matt Dawson and some other bloke. Slightly better I guess.

To ease the flow of Dawson fanatics (including my Mum) hate mail hitting my doorstep this Chrimbo, he’s not the only culprit amongst the celeb Twitterati. Just head to Andy Murray, the majority of X Factor contestants past and present or a footballer’s Twitter account and they are committing the same hideous crimes against Social Media. I think my real issue lies with ironic or witty – sorry… people who think they’re witty – Hashtags. Hashtags that are an attempt to joke but by the time you’ve dissected the mile long group of text, the jokes over.

I feel I ought give my humble opinion on Hashtag etiquette and outline a guide to the perfect Hashtag. Feel free to pass comment, judge or rant at me in the comments if this isn’t of your approval.

 How to construct the perfect Hashtag…

  •  Keep it short! No more than 7 or 8 characters – you only have 140 after all
  • Research first! If you want to own it as a brand, go for a less popular. On the other hand if you want to maximise exposure, go for the most popular and relevant. Just use Twitter Search or check out sites like Tagdef or What the Trend to find out what’s popular or for a definition of a Hashtag you don’t know the meaning of
  • Work in Hashtags to your tweets rather than leaving them at the end. If words in the tweet make good Hashtags, hook them up and save using excessive characters
  • Keep an eye on trending topics on the right side of the screen, they are the biggest conversations at that time… so get involved!
  • Think about the user experience, #howlongdoesittakeyoutoworkoutwhathishashtagsays? Bet you didn’t even noticed the missing letter did you?
  • Don’t forget the “#”… you’d be surprised!

Thank you for listening to a rant that’s been brewing inside for… like… forever. Complaints on a postcard but hopefully you get my drift.

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This post was written by Liam Foy

As Head of Client Services, Liam ensures that all of his clients’ strategies are on track, delivering ROI and coming up with new ideas to drive them forward. Beer makes him tick, reading, learning and drinking it.