As I talk with various people about Twitter, I am often asked about hashtags. What are they? How do you use them? So I’m writing this post to talk about that. (Thanks, Harry, for the prompt!)
Hashtags are those words with pound signs that you often see in a tweet, such as #oer, #sschat, or #whyiwrite.
There are several ways that hashtags can be used when you’re tweeting:
- To designate an event
Many conferences and other events have a hashtag you can use (or attendees just informally make up one — anyone can make up a hashtag). That way everyone attending the event can follow what everyone else is saying and doing.
- To identify a topic
Topics of common interest of discussion are often indicated by a hashtag. Those of us interested in open educational resources, for example, use the tag #oer. That makes it easy to find information on that topic, even beyond the circle of people you follow.
- To participate in a twitter chat
Yes, there are real-time chats on Twitter, indicated by hashtags. One of the largest for education is #edchat, which is held on Tuesdays at 12pm EST and 7pm EST. A bunch of people get on Twitter together and chat about a specified topic, using the chat hashtag. It can be fast and furious! There are many, many interest-specific chats on Twitter, and they’re a great way to learn and to find new people to follow.
- As “punctuation” or to show sentiment
Hashtags are sometimes used to express an emotion or to add something beyond regular words.
There are a few ways you can search for hashtags. The simplest is to just click the hotlinked tag in Twitter. (This is a relatively new feature.) You can also use the search box in Twitter to find tweets with a certain hashtag.
If you use a Twitter client (an application to manage your social media activity, generally used by “power users”), like TweetDeck or HootSuite, you can also configure them to follow hashtags you are interested in.
Another handy web-based tool is TweetChat, which makes it easier to follow and participate in chats on Twitter.
One nice thing about hashtags is that they’re really flexible. Anyone can make up or use one. So if you’re on Twitter, try clicking on the next hashtag you see that’s of interest and see where it takes you, or use one of your own to add to your tweet content.