The hashtag on Twitter is one of modern communication’s most recent (and organic) phenomenons. According to Twitter, the hashtag is “used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.” Although I have been on Twitter for just about a year, I still am learning about all the functions, including hashtags. On my quest for more Twitter knowledge, here is a summary of the history of hashtags, how to use them, ways to track tags, and more. Trust me – this is a #winning guide. (I’m sorry; I promise that will be my one and only Charlie Sheen reference throughout this piece!)

Photo courtesy of Technorati.

How They Started
– This is my favorite part of the hashtag phenomenon. Hashtags were originally created by Tweeters to help organize tweets by grouping them by subject. The technical part is a bit more complicated, but here’s a great post from 2007 social media guru Chris Medina, who explores the possibilities of using the # symbol to organize thoughts and tweets.
– Hashtags became popular in 2007 when Nate Ritter first used the hashtag #sandiegofire to highlight his updates about the fire. In disaster and emergency situations, using common hashtags are still an important part of our communication today. (#jan25 was an important uniting force in the recent Egyptian revolution.)

How To Use Hashtags
– Because hashtags are created and therefore controlled by Tweeters, you can make any word into a hashtag, which will subsequently show up in the Twitter search.
– You can place the hashtag anywhere within your tweet. It can be used as a part of your tweet (ex. “I’m currently writing another great post about #socialmedia and #pr.) or after your tweet in a more commentary style (ex. “I’m currently writing another great post! #socialmedia #pr). Either way, your tweet will show up in the search #socialmedia or #pr.
– Because it’s a way to bind people together, conferences and larger events usually create their own hashtags for participants to follow and tweet from the event itself. For example, last week I attended the PRSSA Regional Activity at Penn State and used the hashtag #prsurvivor throughout the weekend when I was tweeting about the event. Best of all, I could see what was going on at other sessions and connect with other attendees by searching #prsurvivor.
– You can use a website like hashtags.org to find out which tags are trending or to search topics important to you.

Tracking Hashtags
– You can search any hashtag and then hit the “Save this search” button at the top of the screen.
– To track your favorite hashtags, there are a variety of sites you can use. TweetDeck is popular, but you can also track certain tags using your own RSS feed.

Photo courtesy of PR Hamster.

What Do They Even Mean?
I found myself coming across a lot of hashtags and wondering what they actually meant. Because hashtags are user created, they also must be user defined. I follow @tagdef, which allows you to search for any hashtag and find (or add) its definition. Their website also outlines the trending tags, new tags, top tags today, and top tags this week.

#How #Much #Is #Too #Much
^^ That’s definitely too much! Most sources suggest that you keep your hashtags to less than three per tweet. The Twitter Fan Wiki suggests that you create your tweet first, and then insert hashtags only if they add qualitative value to your tweet. They suggest using hastags “respectfully and sparingly” to help make your tweets effective and to avoid confusing or frustrating your followers.

Finding and Tracking Hashtags
– You have to track what interests you most. As a public relations student and lover of social media, some of my favorite tags to track are #prstudchat, #pr20chat, #pr, #prssa, #socialmedia, and #personalbranding. Here’s a great post on tags to track for PR students or professionals.
– #FF (shorthand for #followfriday) is one of the most popular hashtags, as it encourages individuals to use #ff and suggest people to follow. It’s a great way to find new people/organizations to follow!

The best thing about hashtags is that you can create your own or use them to connect with individuals around the world. It’s a user-generated way to communicate with no real mediator. Time to start #tagging!


About Abby Ecker

PR pro and healthy living blogger in the First State
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