How to use Twitter hashtags: Everything you want to know but were afraid to ask
A hashtag is two things: a label and a filter. Using a hashtag in your tweets is like flagging them as relevant to a specific topic -- the topic being the hashtag. By searching for a specific label, users filter out any unwanted information from their streams.
Example: While "Lost" was still on (*moment of silence*) I set up a search on my Twitter client for the #LOST hashtag. Then I was able monitor the stream of content labeled with that hashtag for news, blogs, tips and links about the show.
Where do hashtags come from?
People create hashtags to help organize and promote tweets about a specific topic.
Example: At the (Lawrence, Kan.) Journal World, we started using the hashtag #FFLawrence for Final Fridays -- a community art event on the last Friday of the month in Lawrence. We had live tweets along with our Google map.
Jessica Schilling, our social media coordinator, said the Journal-World used the hashtag #FFLawrence because the community was already adopting it. It's also the account name for the official Twitter presence of Final Fridays, @FFLawrence.
Jessica started working for us a few weeks after Final Fridays started.
Another example: A few weeks prior to Bike to Work Day, we started promoting the usage of #ksbtw for any tweets related to cycling or riding bikes to work. We created the hashtag and "owned" it by promoting it, using it and encouraging everyone to use it across our websites and news coverage. (More on "owning" hashtags in a future post.)
Who can use a hashtag?
Anyone. Any account, any user, any company, any news organization. Hashtags are open to all users, and you can't stop someone from using a hashtag.
How do I create a hashtag?
How do I know if a hashtag already exists?
When should I use a hashtag?
Breaking news: We use the #ksstorms hashtag when there is severe weather or news about severe weather in our coverage area.
Event coverage: We aggregated any tweets with #lawstpats (see above) on our home page using a TweetGrid widget. Users were able to watch a live stream of the parade and read live tweets about the parade at the same time.
National content: Use Twitter search to see if there are hashtags out there being used for national stories and use them for your local coverage.
If a hashtag is already in use, should I still use it?
If it's relevant to the content of your tweets, of course you should. However, if you type in a hashtag and results pop up that don't match your topic at all, try creating your own.
What if a competitor starts using a hashtag we created?
Get over it. Hashtags aren't copyrighted property, they're a free tool. Make your content more appealing to tweeters and the problem will solve itself.
There are multiple hashtags about one topic. Which one do I use?
Pick the one or two that are most popular. If you don't have access to a paid monitoring tool like Radian6, try using a website like trendistic.com, which lets you track how often a hashtag was mentioned over a period of time.
How do you write a tweet using a hashtag?
You can do it two ways:
The shorter the better. Save language real estate in tweets by using abbreviations whenever possible (e.g. #kubball vs. #kansasbasketball)
Hashtags can't contain spaces. #oilspill = correct. #oil spill = incorrect
Don't use a hashtag if it isn't relevant. The followers won't appreciate that and it gives you bad Twitter karma.
Coming soon: How to monitor and "own" hashtags.