12 August 2013

HASHTAGS - what are they, and how do you use them?

Once each week I'm going to post the answer to a techie question from a reader or a student from my classes.  One topic I've been asked about a few times lately is Hashtags.  While they have been around for a while, there are still lots of people who have no idea what they are or how they work. 

What are Hashtags?

If you use Twitter you will probably have seen Hashtags in tweets – they are the words preceded by the # symbol.  Some Facebook users have also been using them, although the ability to use hashtags on Facebook is only now being rolled out to all users.  You’ll also see hashtags on Instagram, Pinterest and Google+. 

Hashtags enable you to find information on a particular topic or to follow an event or conversation.  When a hashtag is added to a post it turns that word or phrase into a clickable link.  When you click on the link you’ll be taken to a feed of public posts, and posts from your friends, that also include that same hashtag.  It’s just a quick way of following a common topic or conversation.

For example, at a conference, all the delegates can be given a particular hashtag to use, so that when anything regarding the conference is posted on Twitter, and now Facebook, all the delegates can follow those posts.

Can I make up my own Hashtag?

Yes, and No.  If you just make up a hashtag and add it to your Twitter or Facebook posts it doesn’t mean a thing - no one else is going to add it to their posts because they don’t know it exists, and it won’t be found by searching unless you’re lucky enough for someone to search for that particular topic.  You need to let others know about your hashtag so that it can be used and followed. 

For example, you could let your friends know that you are going to use the hashtag #helensholiday to post about what’s happening while you’re away on your big trip, and they can use that hashtag to follow what you’re up to and also to converse with you. 

When you are watching TV you’ll often see a show’s official hashtag being displayed on the screen or announced at the start of the show.  On some shows you’ll also see a Twitter feed appearing along the bottom of the screen – each of those tweets has used that same hashtag, which has enabled the TV show to pull those tweets into its broadcast and display them on your TV screen.

You just have to let your audience/friends/customers know about your hashtag before you start using it. 

Before you make up your own hashtag, check if it is available by searching for it (with the # in front) on the different social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.   If there are no posts with that hashtag then it’s yours to use. 

How do I find out which hashtag to use?

You can search for existing hashtags at search.twitter.com – just remember to put the # in front of what you’re searching for.  

For Facebook just type www.facebook.com/hashtag/the hashtag you want (without the #).  With both Twitter and Facebook, at the top of the feed you’ll see the different hashtags that are being used for that particular topic. 

When you use one of these hashtags in your tweet, anyone doing a search on twitter will see your tweet when they search for that word.

Where do I find Hashtags to follow?

Following hashtags can keep you up to date on your interests and the latest news.  You can search for hashtags as detailed above, or try searching in your chosen social network by adding the # in front of that topic and just see what appears in the feed. 

If you just want to see what’s popular at the moment just go to your Twitter home page.  On the left, about half way down the screen you’ll see the Trends box.  This is where you’ll see some of the most popular Twitter topics displayed and those with # in front of them are hashtags you can follow.  If one of them interests you, just click on it and you’ll see all the tweets containing that hashtag.  

Some tips for using hashtags

  • You don't have to add hashtags to every tweet or post.  Add them when you want it to be found under a particular topic.

  • You can place a hashtag anywhere in the tweet or post, but at the end usually makes it easier to read your main text.

  • Don’t get carried away with adding numerous hashtags to your posts.  You just need to add the main topic or two. 

  • If you’re using hashtags on your personal Facebook profile, your privacy settings will control who sees your hashtags – it’s the same as for a normal post.

  • There are no spaces in hashtags – run the words together.

  • You don’t need to use capital letters.

You can use a hashtag to ask for advice, promote your business or a contest, find information or just keep up to date with an event you’re going to.  

Which hashtags do you follow?

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