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What Are Hashtags and How To Use Them?

Keredy Stott
 


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You have probably heard of people talking about hashtags and if you already use Twitter, then you may have noticed popular hashtagged terms in the right hand trends column. Hashtags are so named because that is the name for the little symbol that looks like a square with extended sides (#), which can also be found on a telephone. However, the symbol’s name has become synonymous with a term being tweeted on the Twitter social network that starts with the symbol. Working at an integrated social media agency, Punch Communications, I use and watch hashtags on a daily basis so if hashtags are a bit of a mystery to you, then here is a basic guide on what they are and how they can be used.

Hashtags can be single or multiple words or acronyms proceeded by the symbol for ‘number’, and they are used to tag a tweet, denoting a wider context or referring to a particular person, place or event. When a person uses a hashtag it pertains to the content in that tweet (for example, comments on the recent Japanese earthquake contained hashtags such as #japan, #tsunami and #fukushima) and when that exact term is searched for, or clicked upon, Twitter will show a stream of all the tweets including it. When a hashtag appears in the trends column, this means that it is one of the top ten repeated terms being used on Twitter at that time; trends settings allow users to choose worldwide trends or those for a country or city.

So how might you utilise hashtags? Big news stories can be seen unfolding through a hashtag stream, such as the earthquake in #Christchurch, the civil uprising in #Egypt and more currently the military action taken in #Libya. This allows people from all over the world to comment on the same subject; tweets range from from eye witness accounts to message of support to professional commentary.

Popular hashtags and those that often trend are linked to television programmes, predominantly used whilst the show or the sporting event is being aired. For example, people were commenting throughout the first Formula 1 race of the season using #bbcf1 and #f1. Some programmes explicitly promote a hashtag, such as #10oclocklive whilst other shows attract commentary naturally because they are loved or hated.

Two very popular hashtags you will find usually only on Friday’s are #ff and #followfriday, both of which are a way of telling your followers the people you cite in your tweet are worth following. For example, “#ff @the_only_keredy @ericawhiteman @punchcomms @petegoold”. These might be new people you’ve come across that week or just your favourite tweeters.

If you spot a trending hashtag or one used in a tweet or and you don’t know what it means you can visit tagdef.com, which provides definitions. You can offer your own definition to an existing tag or add your own to their directory. It also shows potentially related hashtags if you want to search for the best hashtag for your topic. To track the frequency of a hashtag’s use, visit hastags.org. These are both particularly helpful tools to PR consultants ; if you want to use hashtags for business engagement purposes, research the best ones to use and then drill down to find individuals you want to target.

Hashtags are used by millions of people for a wide range of reasons, including for online PR purposes (#sonyericsson), news reporting (#londonprotest) and to suggest a sentiment (#fail). Others use them like a fun game; #swearyremakes had people citing film topics with added swear words and on Valentine’s day #youknowiloveyouwhen was trending. There are no hard and fast rules to hashtags, just start using them and you’ll soon see how useful they are.

To find out how a social media agency could transform your business, contact Punch Communications on 01858 411 600 or info@punchcomms.com.

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