Using hashtags is an art form.
The hashtag is one of the most misunderstood tools of social media. Though many people use them (often excessively), their true purpose sometimes gets lost.
There are no definitive rules for how, or when, to use a hashtag; but there are methods for using them effectively, depending on intention and purpose.
When used effectively, hashtags can connect people, across the world, and allow them to communicate. They can raise awareness for causes, ideas and brands. Hashtags have the power to prove we all have more in common than not.
But using them properly takes skill, forethought and creativity. There is an art to hashtags.
Hashtags are engagement tools.
When you break it down, Twitter is simply a group of people speaking to each other (sometimes themselves), in real time.
But from the outside looking in, Twitter can look like a lot of noise. It can be difficult to separate one conversation from another.
Unless you’re use a hashtag.
Hashtags are engagement tools which let people label their own conversation, and let others join. Placing a hashtag within a tweet makes it easy to find, through Twitter’s search bar. They can also start trends and movements.
What is a hashtag? How do I Use a Hashtag?
The most common question people have when the first create a Twitter account, is “what’s the @#$% is a hashtag?” It’s a confusing form of communication, that doesn’t easily relate to our standard way of speaking.
The closest comparison is non-verbal communication. The hashtag can sometimes put emphasis on a statement. Or it can add subtext.
Essentially, the hashtag adds context to your message. It’s like rolling your eyes, using air-quotes, or using hand gestures. In a static form of communication, like simple text, the hashtag adds flair.
But the first time you see it, the meaning is usually lost.
When Should I Use a Hashtag?
While new Twitter users may not understand the purpose of a hashtag, some social media veterans and millennials don’t fully get it either.
In my opinion, there are 3 main functional uses for the hashtag. Let me break it down.
Join the Conversation
A hashtag lets you connect with people talking about the same subject. Adding hashtags lets others discover a tweet through Twitter’s search bar. Once searched, every tweet that includes the hashtag is displayed.
For some hashtags, there may be a few tweets a minute, or hour. Other times, like during popular cultural events (the Super Bowl, The Voice season finale, or the police chasing a couple llamas across Arizona), several tweets per second can appear.
These popular cultural events, and the Twitter response to them, are called live tweeting, and involve a large group of people all talking about the same topic.
Live tweeting is the world’s largest, active conversation about the same topic.
Using hashtags lets people join the conversation, and connect with others (sometimes strangers) interested in the same subject.
When you want to communicate with others about a particular topic, hashtags can help you connect
Twitter is a powerful two-way communication tool. Through the platform, people can speak directly to friends, strangers and public figures.
But sometimes people aren’t looking for a dialogue; instead preferring the soliloquy.
In 2010, Twitter reported performing 1.6 billion search queries per day. The current number is guaranteed to be higher, as there were only 50 million active Twitter users in 2010. As of Q3 2015, there were over 300 million active users.
Twitter is one of the top search engines in the world, and it can be used as a source for sharing your message.
Hashtags can be used to help others discover a specific topic. Adding them to a tweet will allow it to appear when users search for that hashtag.
If you have a message to share, but don’t want to start a conversation, hashtags can help you categorize and store your message for future discovery.
However, there are many popular hashtags that are searched for regularly. Even more, some people track specific hashtags, and are alerted whenever a tweet is posted which includes it. While others have lists and filters which only show tweets using a specific hashtag.
Not only can a hashtag let you categorize your tweet for later discovery, it can be used to get discovered in real time.
Start a Trend
Most people and brands don’t have the type of influence, or clout, to start a Twitter trend without spending money on advertising. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible; just difficult.
A hashtag can become trending. This occurs when a large number of people tweet using the same hashtag. This often occurs during live tweeting events, but can happen naturally, or through persuasion.
People and brands with social influence often start trending hashtags. When celebrities, television shows, or other sources with large followings, encourage fans to use a specific hashtag, people generally oblige.
The most common reason to get a hashtag to trend is to raise awareness.
When people tweet with a specific hashtag, their Twitter followers see it; which in turn, can lead to them clicking the hashtag and discovering a large group of people using it as well. Out of curiosity, and fear of missing out (FOMA), these people will investigate and try to figure out what everyone is talking about. Before long, they’ll trace the hashtag back to its source, and possibly discover a new social influencer.
This is an effective form of branding and marketing, and can raise awareness through word-of-mouth.
But sometimes hashtag trends happen organically. If there is a cause that appeals to the masses, they may share the hashtag as well. This can often occur as a form of activism, but can be used whenever there is an idea or belief that unites people.
Starting hashtag trends are the best way to raise awareness, get discovered, and start a conversation. Not everyone has the power to do this, but when accomplished, the hashtag is at its most powerful.
Hashtags can be fun, or they can be powerful tools. They can add flair to your sentence, or unite a nation.
When used effectively, hashtags can spread a single message further than any other form of communication currently available in the world. A single hashtag can connect people of all beliefs, lifestyles and cultures, and can pass through borders with ease.
Their power is unmatched in communication, but too few people understand how to use them effectively. Using hashtags properly combines science and artistry.
To get the most out of them, you must learn the art of hashtag.