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As Twitter has grown, people follow hundreds of people, and as a result it’s not so simple to read all the tweets. As a result, various methods have evolved to help categorize tweets to make it easier to sift through and find just what you’re looking for. Hence the birth of the Twitter “hashtag”.
A hashtag is simply a keyword or group of keywords with the ‘#’ sign in front of the them. For example, #design or #socialmedia would both be hashtags.
Why call it a hashtag?
I’m sharing this explanation with you because I didn’t know the answer until I looked it up. Apparently the ‘#’ symbol (which I’ve always called the pound sign or number symbol) is frequently called a hash sign or hash symbol. So clearly it is called the hash tag because it is the “hash sign + a tag word”. Learn more about this hash symbol on Wikipedia.
Hashtags makes it easier to follow information streams
When you send out a tweet on a particular subject, you can use a hashtag to let followers know that it belongs in that category of information. Many people use programs like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck to filter tweets based on specific hashtags.
For example, on our Landau Design Twitter account, we filter tweets based on #usability, #socialmedia, #blogging, #joomla and #SEO hashtags. This helps us keep up on the latest tweets in these areas, even if we aren’t following the people who sent the tweets. We’ve found some fabulous people to follow this way!
Hashtags make it easier to search
You can search based on hashtags too. Perhaps there is a current event that you’d like to see the stream of tweets from all over the twitterverse, you could search by the hashtag for that even. For example, we have the Academy Awards coming up shortly, and if you search for #academyawards in Twitter, you will see everybody who is talking about it.
Some people auto-retweet based on hashtags
We found out this gem quite by accident. We used the #seo hashtag when tweeting about one of our blog posts, and somebody who wasn’t even following us retweeted it. Next week we used the tag again, and we saw the same person retweeting for us. That’s when we realized that people are using tools like Twitterfeed to auto-retweet based on specific hashtags.
Hashtags can be a secret code
During the Haiti earthquake many people in Haiti had mobile devices, and Twitter became a way of communicating what was going. As a result, a group of coders from around the world decided to create a disaster-response syntax using hashtags (read the article here: New Twitter Hashtag Syntax for Sharing Information During Catastrophes). You can even create your own hashtags for a group of people that you communicate with regularly on Twitter. This will make it easier for them to find the threads of your conversations.
How do I make my own hashtag?
Hashtags.org is the official site that organizes these tags so they can be utilized in Twitter. To create your own hashtag group:
- Go to hashtags.org and search for the name you’d like to use in the search box in the top right.
- If your hashtag name does not exist, then go back to your Twitter account and following @hashtags. They will auto-follow you back.
- Now send out a tweet with your new #hashtag.
- Hashtags.org will pick up your new hashtag and add it to their index.
Hashtags have their own RSS feeds
Once your hashtag is in the index, it will have its own feed which you can follow. The feed is always going to be http://hashtags.org/feeds/tag/TagName. Note that it is NOT http://hashtags.org/feeds/tag/#TagName. The ‘#’ sign cannot be used in a URL, so it is not part of the feed URL. So give it a try, here is the hashtag feed for Twitter: http://hashtags.org/feeds/tag/twitter
You have to use the hashtag to be included
This might seem obvious, but in case it isn’t, you do have to put the hashtag in as part of your tweet. There is nobody at Twitter central who reads and categorizes the tweets, so it’s up to you to include it. Of course that does mean your tweet itself needs to be shorter in order to include the tag, but the categorization benefit outweighs the shorter message.
Do you have a #hashtag you love to follow?
Let us know your favorite #hashtags you like to follow by adding it to our comments. It might help you gain some new followers!