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How to Use Twitter Hashtags to Search and Create Community in Social Media

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Guest Post by Heidi Thorne

Hashing Out Twitter Hashtags

What the $%#!@^* is a hashtag on Twitter? Quite simply, hashtags are a way to help people organize and follow topics on Twitter.
Here’s how they work…

Like many searching functions on computers and the Internet, Twitter evaluates strings of text when you type a word in the Search box on your Home screen. It will search and evaluate tweet text for your desired word, regardless of if it is specially tagged or not. A standard search will return any tweet that has that word. Some of those tweets and Twitter profiles may be totally irrelevant to your needs.

On the other hand, if a tweet is tagged with a hashtag, and that hashtag is entered in Search, only those tweets that contain that tag will be returned in the results. Twitter users including a hashtag in their tweets have tagged their tweets as being relevant to a specific topic or group.

Can you see how this might help you locate other Twitter users that would be good connections?

Let’s look at a real life example. Because of my experience in the events arena, and because that market holds potential for my business, I wanted to find people in the event planning field on Twitter. Doing a standard word search for “events” revealed tons of tweets in which people were saying things such as “I have a lot of events this week” or “Hope to see you at those events.” Are those relevant? Probably not. I want people who are involved in the events planning arena and who are identifying their interest in it. Typing in “#” symbol hashtag and “events” (i.e. #events) in Search returned a wealth of people who are suppliers, planners, and others allied with the events industry.

But let’s take that one step further. Twitter users also use hashtags to say “I belong” to a specific group or community in the Twitterverse. It’s like wearing a team uniform or badge. One such community that I am involved with is called “eventprofs” which is a community of those involved with the tradeshow and events industry. This is an active community that, according to site WhatTheHashtag.com, had 475 contributors, averaging 245 tweets per day for the group, over the past seven days on the day I checked. Might those Twitter users be good connections for me to consider? I think so.

Here are some tips and tools for using Twitter hashtags:

  • Topic Search – If you are looking for possible hashtags to follow, go to http://www.hashtag.org. A list of hashtags and descriptions containing your search word will be returned.
  • Establishing a Hashtag Community – Many Twitter users create hashtags on the fly as they are typing. They usually do this as a shout-out to their followers that they are interested in certain topic. (Note: Some of them get very creative!) But if you would like to start your own hashtag community, go to the WhatTheHashtag.com site where you can enter the tag and its description, as well as obtain stats on hashtag trends. And don’t forget to tweet about your new hashtag so that your followers can start using it.
  • Follow a Hashtag in a Twitter App – Twitter applications such as HootSuite.com makes it easy for you to follow a hashtag. In HootSuite, you can add a feed column for a Search on your hashtag of choice. It will feed you all tweets containing that hashtag on a continuing basis. Great way to follow a topic or community… and find great new connections too.

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Heidi Thorne helps event and tradeshow professionals and associations “Keep Your Brand in the Hand of Your Customers” with carefully selected promotional products and marketing strategies. Her “Promo With Purpose” concept evaluates marketing objectives, image, and values in selecting the best way to build a brand, business, and community. Visit her blog at http://www.PromoWithPurposeToday.com and follow her on Twitter at @heidithorne.

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10 Responses to How to Use Twitter Hashtags to Search and Create Community in Social Media

  1. Heidi, Thanks for writing this. I’ve always been confused about hashtags, but no more. One question: Do you think it’s possible to overuse hashtags? I see more and more tweets so littered with hashtags I have a hard time making out what it is they’re trying to say.

    • Glad I was able to clear up some of the hashtag confusion for you!

      Yes, overuse of hashtags is as bad as using too many tags for a web page. Translation: spam. What I would suggest is only using for keywords relevant to the community to wish to reach. For example, when I write an article about Twitter, I usually place the #Twitter hashtag somewhere in the tweet since I am hoping to reach people who want to know more about Twitter or who might be following Twitter trends. A related term would be social media. So I would include a tag for #SocialMedia as well.

      Notice that I slammed the two words “social” and “media” together. This is common practice in hashtag world since it makes for easier search. If I had just put it under social, it could return results for social programs, social studies, etc.

      Rule of Thumb: I’d typically limit the number of hashtags to about three. Plus, the more “#” characters you add, the less space you have to tweet!

  2. Can you help me see what you’re seeing at Hashtags.org? I would dearly love to find a keyword-based hashtag suggestion tool…but simply don’t see where that is located at Hashtags.org.

    • You’ve certainly hit on one of the more frustrating aspects of using Twitter hashtags. The only thing you can find at hashtag.org is the tag using your search word of choice. You’ll be able to see current tweets that are using it. As much as hashtags.org and wthashtag.com can provide info on what’s trending in terms of topics, and do a search if you know what keyword you’re looking for, I have not encountered a “yellow pages” or suggestion tool of sorts for hashtags. (If anyone finds a good one, please share with us!)

      Part of the reason is that many hashtags come and go quickly, others are created on the fly by users without thought of their future use, and there are no Twitter restrictions on using hashtags. So coming up with a hashtag nomenclature is a massive undertaking.

      Once you start following people who are actively using your choice “keyword” type hashtags, you will probably see them using various additional tags over and over. You can see if it has been defined on wthashtag.com, but often you’ll be able to determine the nature of the hashtag from the context of the tweets themselves. This is currently one of the most effective ways to locate relevant hashtags.

  3. Reading this post has helped me to understand what hashtags are and how they should be used. I think it will still be difficult to implement them as I have never used them before. I suppose its just trial and error and observing how other people use hashtags. Understanding the way that hashtags are used will help me to start using the. From this post I can find that adding hashtags is like having keywords on a website and being searched for them.

    • You make a very good point that hashtags almost function as keywords.

      It does take a while to get acclimated to using them. What I would suggest is watching what hashtags key people you follow use, and the context in which they use them. You will most likely see some tags being used over and over. If they are relevant to your tweet, use them as well.

      Good luck as you begin to optimize your Twitter experience with hashtags!

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  5. Certain tweeters need to cut it out with the obsessive hashtagging. It dilutes the message and looks spammy. You can still include those keywords, but it’s more effective in the form of a sentence.

    • Hi Marian, So it’s not just me: trying to decipher excessive hashtags can get frustrating when your time is limited. I’m not sure what the writers are trying to accomplish when they overuse hashtags – it reminds me of keyword stuffing in the early days of SEO.

    • Yes, excessive hashtagging (Is that a word?) does look spammy. Like you, I usually try to meld it into the text of the tweet to show its relevance. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in on the subject!

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