Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Power of Hashtags on Twitter

When I first started using Twitter, I was confused by all the hash marks in front of words. I'd see a Tweet like this:

#amwriting about the #civilwar and I need information about #rifles used by soldiers. 
Eventually, I learned what was going on. These are called "Hashtags." They make use of the power of the Twitter search engine to create ad hoc groups and to aid research on Twitter. Here's how it works. Let's say I am a fan of Haven on the SyFy channel, and I want to see what other people are saying about Haven and maybe even join the conversation, I can go to and type #haven into the search bar at the top of the page. It will pull up all Tweets that have been posted with that word preceded by the hash mark.

I just did that with #Haven and the first post was someone asking when the new season would start. I'm sure some person will have an answer and respond with the #haven hash tag.

Now, just as an aside, this points out to one aspect of Twitter which should make you think before you tweet. Since all tweets (unless you purposely elect to have yours hidden) are searchable and basically public, you need to be careful what you tweet. I don't mind. I don't tweet anything I don't care that the world reads. I'm less cautious on Facebook because I can control who reads my posts there more precisely.

Now, Back on point, hash tags make it possible for you to communicate with thousands of people who are not "following" you on Twitter. They can also respond to you. This is huge because some people follow certain hashtags all the time. For instance, there's a hashtag #amwriting. Writers post that they are starting to write. It provides a type of accountability. But they also often ask research questions, post links of interest to writers or just seek support and advice. I have a column open on Tweetdeck following that hashtag group all the time.

Writers can use hashtags in many ways.

  1. To target special interest groups. Let's say you just posted a blog about your new book on motorcycle maintenance. You could post a tweet like this:

    Fix your Ride. #Motorcycle #repair for everyone. Find out more at URL

    This will not only go out to your own followers, but also to everyone who searches for #motorcycle that day. That could be thousands. 
  2. To network with writers and others. Writing can be a lonely business. Sitting on the computer pounding out copy can get a bit tiring at times. Just knowing there are others out there doing the same thing can be an encouragement. Some good hashtag groups for writers are #amwriting, #amediting, #nanowrimo and #writingsprints. You can also follow specific genres such as #scifi, #sciencefiction, #mystery and #romance. 
  3. To create your own group. Maybe you are in touch with a number of people who share a given interest, you can come up with an agreed upon hashtag and use it to reach across twitter accounts to keep in touch. For instance, you might have a writers group in your town and create the hashtag #mytownwriters . Then just search for that hashtag to see what everyone is doing or set up an automatic search in an aggregator like TweetDeck or HootSuite. 
  4. To do research. With hundreds and even thousands of people following certain hashtags, you can post a request for information and almost be sure to get a response. Let's say you are doing' research on caregivers for Alzheimer's patients. You could post something like:

    #amwriting an article on #alzheimer's #caregivers. Looking for interviews DM or email at _____.
    It is best to use an email address that is specifically used for research and not your personal email because this is very public.  By hashtagging #amwriting, #alzheimer's and #caregivers you increase the chances of people responding because people searching any of those terms will see your request.

    You can also simply search for your subject. For instance, I just plugged in the hashtag #alzheimer's and got a link to an article from Everyday Health about what to do when dementia patients refuse help. Indeed, this is a twitter account devoted entirely to Alzheimer's. So, clicking on that link, I find all sorts of links to articles about Alzheimer's including many related to caregiving. In fact, I found myself happily clicking through several articles. My father had the disease and I'm always interested in information about it.
So, before you post that tweet, think about "hashtagging" it a bit. 

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  1. Terri, this information is so useful. I am media stupid. I looking forward to the class. Marian

  2. Wonderful and easy to follow explanation. I already knew about Twitter hashtags, but I have a lot of friends who still don't get it. I'm going to refer them to this blog post from now on.

    Thank you, Terri.

    - Danielle

  3. Feel Free to share this post as you wish. It's licensed under creative commons. All I ask is that there be a link back.

  4. Wonderful information. I was so lost about hashtags at first, but they make sense now. I'll be sharing this link!

  5. Thanks for this reminder to add hashtags to my tweets! I've kept forgetting and now I'll remember! I've shared this on facebook and google + too. My blog is

  6. Good article.

    Didn't know about #amwriting or #writingspirits.


  7. Nike-- It's #writingsprints . They do word wars and that sort of thing.

  8. This helps a lot. Hashtags were so confusing. Thank you for taking the time to explain what they are and how we can use them. I still have some questions (like, what's a tweetdeck), but I have a base of knowledge on which to build.

    Thank you,
    Author of Concilium, available July 2012
    Concilium: The Departure, November 2012

  9. Michelle-

    Tweetdeck is program that automatically collects tweets from all your accounts, from Linked in, Facebook and Myspace in columns. You can also set up columns to search for particular hashtags and it will automatically collect them throughout the day. You can find out more at . There are other programs that do much the same thing. I find it extremely helpful. It keeps me up with my Twitter messages and FB in real time because it also pops up with notifications every few minutes of what may have been posted. I can adjust the frequency of the notifications. Plus, I can glance from one account to another. I can also create groups. So, I can set up a column of just students or just family members. It gives me more control over everything.

  10. Great post! Often I hit 'send' before adding hashtags, but have worked to make it a habit. Will share this. Thanks!

    TopsyTurvy Land

  11. Dear Terri,
    Thanks for the simple and thorough explanation of hashtags for Twitter.

    Do something good to celebrate you today.
    Joan Y. Edwards

  12. Donna, I have slowly made it a habit depending, of course, on the tweet. I mean I don't put them on personal stuff. That would look weird. "#ameating #chinese #food for #dinner. Love #sweetandsourpork"

  13. On a more serious note, if you wonder if a particular hashtag is worth adding, try running a search for it. If you get a lot of hits from a variety of people, then it is. If only a couple of people are using it, then probably only a few more are searching for it.

  14. I remember the author of another blog I follow talking about hash tags, but I was still a bit confused about them. Your explanation about them and their use helped clear things up a bit. Thank you.

  15. Twitter Followers
    Thanks a lot for blogging this, it was unbelieveably informative and helped me tons.


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