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How (or Why) do you use Hashtags on Twitter?

It’s always interesting to watch how systems set up by a platform (hashtags on Twitter in this case) are taken up by the communities using it and evolve with their requirements [Mags makes a useful correction below in the comments to point out that in fact the Twitter community introduced hashtags and Twitter later picked up on it, thanks Mags]. Hashtags were, I imagine, set up with a view to organising conversions so that people could join groups discussing certain topics. For SEO this means getting your message heard or just lifting your profile is easier when using hashtags to join conversational groups and meet new people.

But hashtags are used in all kinds of other ways, (like many others we even use ours as a trigger for our website to pull in a Tweet to the homepage) and I’ve noticed a growing trend in my fellow Tweeps of using a hashtag more as a short snappy full-stop to a message, rather than a tag they actually expect others to be using or to take on.

So, I’m interested, when you use hashtags in your Tweets, what is your intention? Do you give it conscious thought, are you trying to join other conversations, are you doing it just for fun?

Comment here in reply, or you can Tweet your reply to my account: @camilla_wnw and I’ll copy them into the comments, so everyone can see the answers.



Just wanted to clarify my Twitter response:
I use the hashtags to promote my tweet INTO a conversation – usually I’ll use one to signal that yes, I’m talking about the same thing others are.

I use it for search, the lazy way to find out what people are saying about a topic. As soon as I see one person use a hashtag I can click on it and get everything. In the old twitter interface I used to be able to get an RSS feed of this as well but that is rarer for me.

And for fun: sometimes I just make one up because it feels like an amusing way to end a sentence #gattoaddahashtagforthiscoseveryoneelseisdoingit

Ha, and that one would be almost a full tweet I think! Thanks for the expansion, I’ve used hashtags to include myself in a conversation too, and then using the search function to track that conversation as long as I want to keep talking.

And I don’t think its use as a search is lazy at all, I think that’s one of its most powerful uses.

~ Camilla

It’s only lazy because you don’t capture all the conversation about the topic with the hashtag. some people use the wrong hashtag, mis-spell it or don’t use one at all, so if you really want to dig deep into something you need to search on words as well as hashtags.

Great question and one that I am sure many people would like to know the answer to.

Personally I use it to get involved in a conversation or topic so that I can see what other people are saying about the same thing. It is an easy way of connecting with people who are talking about the same things as you and I have found some great people to follow on Twitter through hashtags!

However, I must admit that sometimes I create my own, which can be a bit random but they seem to serve as a form of expression. If you are lucky, someone else has had the same thought/experience as you and used that hashtag.

Overall I think they are a handy tool to find something quickly but it does not completely replace search because not everyone uses hashtags (or as mentioned by Martin above, people spell them wrong).

“Form of expression” is a great way of putting it, and is what I am noticing more and more in my followers/followees.

I’ve found hashtags really good for finding people in common too, it’s a great method of dipping into various topics and coming out with new friends, totally agree with you there.

Thanks for taking the time to answer Ayaan! 🙂

~ Camilla

It’s worth pointing out hashtags evolved from the twitter community itself and were then embraced by Twitter itself. Like the use of RT to indicate a retweet (a function that Twitter then both added and restricted). So neither system was set up by the platform but by the users.

I personally use hashtags:
as a way of having a wider conversation about a topic rather than being in the closed circle of followers;
as a search function;
as a way of enabling people to block a topic they don’t want to read about;
as a joke (see Martin’s example).

For example, I use the tag #scd for any Strictly Come Dancing tweets because:
the #scd conversations are much more entertaining than the #strictly ones;
the search returns tweets from people who are twitterate* rather than new users (and twitterate users tend to be more entertaining);
anyone who hates Strictly can use the filter function in tweetdeck etc to hide all #scd from all the people they follow.

With @shinyshelf, we use hashtags primarily to be returned in searches on a topic. So, for example, adding #merlin to a tweet about a review is more likely to get the tweet noticed.

*twitterate – a portmanteau of “twitter literate” wot I just created.

Excellent points, using hashtags as a filter for things you *don’t* want to read about is one I’d not considered at all, and could prove very useful (and have interesting impacts on promotion for those of us interested in marketing). I find the same with twitterate (ha) users versus those not so twitter-friendly, especially when participating in media hashtags like TV and so on, somewhat removed from business conversations where an awful lot of users tend to be better versed in how to tweet (due to their need to appear professional I’m sure).

And thanks very much for the information on the beginnings of hashtags, I should have done my research! Great to know, I’m going to amend the original post with a little note to point to your comment.

~ Camilla

Just tested something and a search for “merlin” does not return “#merlin”. So from a promotional POV, you need to put both terms into a tweet to ensure it returns in a search.

So I learnt something new!

And yes, with livetweeting about TV, the hashtag provides a way to filter the stream a bit.

Interesting, I wouldn’t have predicted that either, seems a little counterproductive. I use when I want to search Twitter and set up search alerts anyway, and it does find instances of the search term with a hash in front, so thankfully I haven’t been missing much.

I use hashtags fairly conventionally I suppose. Certainly to keep a thread of conversation alive and to be able to see relevance.

When teaching a class, I invite the students to use a specific hashtag during the class so the tweets all become part of the class “lecture notes”. I encourage students to tweet the questions even though the classes are live. That way the questions are shown projected and I answer both verbally and in a tweet as well. That way everyone has the same “lecture notes” and the classes are more engaging, more relevant.

I hadn’t thought of using the hashtags for exclusion. That’s a terrific idea.

I love it that hashtags aren’t singly mapped to a meme. So we have synonyms in the hashtag space. All sorts of unexpected relationships crop up. Simple case #UT could be (US) state of Utah, University of Texas, University of Tennessee. Maybe they are syntags – which of course isn’t a tag used anywhere as of this writing!

That’s a great way of keeping classes and notes afterwards dynamic – I’ve seen it done for convention talks (where it ended up being a distraction because they weren’t filtered and people were joking in the stream) but never for classes/lectures. I can really see it being useful for pupils having notes afterwards and then being able to continue commenting on the same subjects on Twitter long after the lesson is over.

And yes, the synonyms issue is an interesting one – more of a chance to stumble upon things you wouldn’t have otherwise. Ha, a new twitter-term! (the second we’ve had invented in the comments on this page, we’re on a roll!) ‘Synotags’ maybe though, to avoid confusion with ‘syntax’??

Thanks for taking the time to reply, the innovative ways people are finding to use hashtags is proving really interesting!

~ Camilla