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So you’ve used a hashtag or two in your time, but have you explored their full potential? Since people started using hashtags on Twitter to organise tweets, their has proliferated with almost every second tweet being marked with at least one hashtag.
While they’re often exploited by spammers who link their sites to tweets riddled with all the current trending hashtags, they’re also really useful in streamlining information in an ocean of tweets.
Here are eight of the most effective ways to use a hashtag.
1. Broad categorisation.
The most obvious use of hashtags is to categorise tweets into a searchable category for indexing. People use broad category hashtags related to interests, news topics (#photography, #travel, #wikileaks, #dewani) to categorise their tweets so that they can be aggregated when someone does a search of that area of interest.
2. Brands and businesses.
They can engage with potential customers, promote campaigns or run competitions. Web design company Moonfruit ran a competition where Twitter users could write any tweet (and as many as they wanted) with a #moonfruit hashtag to win a Macbook. The result: the ‘#moonfruit’ hashtag became a trending topic.
Hashtags allow for effective live-blogging of a conference or event. If everyone attending the event uses the same hashtag to mark their tweets about the event, it provides a real-time record for people to follow the event’s progress. Twitter users with a client app such as Tweetdeck can easily set up a feed just showing tweets with a particular hashtag – a live stream of information about the event they are unable to attend.
4. Rallying around a cause.
A recent example of this is hashtag #AmazonFail which has been used to shame the company after it was discovered that it was selling a paedophilia guidebook.
The most practical use of hashtags is to facilitate communication in a time of crisis, like during an emergency or natural disaster. The hashtag #sandiegofire in 2007 was the first example of this.
Memes like #followfriday, #traveltuesday, #songsthatleadtosex are popular on Twitter and provide a way for people to engage with a wider Twitter community in a fun way. Hashtags facilitate these memes.
Commonly used hashtags (#fail, #brandplus, #ftw) are an easy way of placing a tweet in context when you have limited characters. These kinds of hashtags allow users to express sentiment in an efficient way that other Twitter users will immediately understand, and frees up space to write a more comprehensive tweet.
8. Personal humour
Twitter hashtags have become so ubiquitous that it’s now common to see personal idiosyncratic tags used, often in a humorous way. They often contradict what’s in the tweet or expand on the tweeter’s feelings. This one is a good example: @thescott: “Beer on a weekday lunch #guiltypleasures”. The sky’s the limit here with these sorts of hashtags.
The point is not to create a hashtag that will become a trending topic on Twitter and get you 1 000 more followers, it’s to create interesting and funny tweets.