What the Tartfiddle is a #Hashtag?Anita Kirkbride
If you are a Twitter newbie, you’ve probably noticed a lot of tweets floating by with the # attached to them…at the beginning, in the middle, pretty much anywhere in the tweets. Have you figured out what they mean yet? They are called “hashtags” and here is my interpretation of them.
The very first hashtag was tweeted by Chris Messina in 2007 and it was a question. “How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp.” That simple question about a way to help aggregate conversations in Twitter created a revolution–a whole new language almost. Hashtags even went mainstream with NDP Leader Jack Layton using the term “#fail” verbally during the leaders debate for the 2011 federal election.
In extremely simplistic terms, the main purpose of a #hashtag is to group together people and conversations so you can easily find and follow them. For example, during the same federal election #elxn11 was a commonly used #hashtag for finding people who were tweeting about the election. By tagging #elxn20 to the end of your tweet, others who were discussing the election could find you. By the same token, people who were following you, but not necessarily the election would know that what you just tweeted needed to be taken into the context of the election chatter.
Nearly any topic, event or group you can think of has a #hashtag or five. Which brings us to the myriad other uses of #hashtags.
Games or Just for Fun
#funeralhomeslogans was a fun game that invaded the Twitterverse for a couple of days in June. You tweeted your funniest line for a funeral home slogan and added the #hashtag. Others would search for the #hashtag, find you and perhaps respond, retweet or even follow you. This type of #hashtag game happens all the time. “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and other popular shows encourage this by suggesting a #hashtag and picking their favourites to read on air. As I am writing this, two great examples are trending on Twitter #icantgoadaywithout and #replaceawordinafamousquotewithduck.
Many people make up their own #hashtags simply to express an emotion. I’ve been known to tweet #gonnathrowup to indicated being sick. I’ve been asked why Tweeps do this? Why not just say “I feel like I’m going to throw up”? Part of it is saving space. My #gonnathrowup hashtag takes up a whole lot less space in my 140 character limit. So, I can easily tag it onto another sentence like “Watching teen heartthrob make girls scream on TV. #gonnathrowup” and it has a whole different meaning than what you expected. Hashtags are often used to indicate sarcasm, irony or an attempt at comedy.
Many companies are offering prizes via Twitter to those who retweet a specific message or #hashtag. You could win everything from #cash to an #iPad for playing along.
Live Tweeting from Conference or Event
Many social media savvy events and speakers now encourage participants to “live-tweet” from their chair during a speech. Some go even further (too far if you ask me) by showing, in real time, the tweets on a screen behind the speaker! All it takes is a simple request from the speaker or the organizers to use #TEDXHalifax. It allows the organizers or speaker to search later for comments and to see what really grabbed people’s attention.
For a small business the main takeaway here is that it makes tracking conversations on Twitter easier. Why not start your own #hashtag for a product you carry and see how it grows? Or try searching for some topics or brands of interest to you and see what #hashtags are being used in those conversations and #jumpin! If you’re really bold you can join the live tweeting conversation for a big event!