About a week ago, I tried to explain hashtags to someone. I know that many people find them confusing or annoying, so here’s the basic explanation that I gave:
I think of hashtags as a “file under” notice. They’re a way for people on social networking sites to find conversations of interest. I can go to Tweetdeck and search for “#amwriting” and be instantly connected to thousands of people using that hashtag while they’re talking about what they’re doing (their projects, excerpts, frustrations, questions, quirky observations, whatever).
#MyWANA connects me to a specific online community.
#CampNaNoWriMo shows me who’s talking about that.
#TheWalkingDead (#TWD? I have no idea, I just picked a show) would show me open conversations people are having about that show, and I could jump in if I wanted to (hashtags indicate that you want the conversation/tweet/instagram post/whatever to be searchable)
The # is important because it shows that this is the topic of conversation, not just a random word that might show up in any context if I just searched for it.
What gets confusing is that it has also become a way of commenting on one’s own posts in an amusing or snarky way, but the “file under” idea still helps me understand the concept.
It’s not part of the actual post, but it can make an amusing comment on it.
I used hashtags both ways there: #amwriting made the post visible to everyone following that hashtag, and several responded to me. #notsomuch was a comment on the fact that I wasn’t actually writing, because I had no R. It’s unlikely that anyone is searching for #notsomuch and wants to jump in on the conversation, but it’s sort of an amusing post-script.
There’s no rule that says you have to like hashtags. You’re allowed to think that they’re annoying. Heck, they CAN be annoying. If your tweets look like this:
#buymybook #fantasy with #dragons and #magic #romance #kindle #99centsale #freeifyouwantit #somebodypleasevalidateme #loveme #godimsoalone
…I’m going to skip right over that*. It IS irritating. I’ll probably mute you or unfollow if that’s all you tweet. Likewise for Facebook– I’m not even going to attempt to decode a status that looks like that.
All I’m saying is that when used responsibly (ie not excessively), hashtags can be a way to connect with people who have similar interests, or they can be a fun way to comment on one’s own status**, tweet, instagram post, whatever. Just don’t over-use or abuse them if you want people to actually read your posts.
Whether you actually find it amusing is entirely personal. I won’t judge you if you want to sit on your porch and yell at those darned kids with their hashtags and their loud music. I just want to make sure we all understand what’s going on. 🙂
Oh, and PS– watch your hashtag use. Abusing them to get attention is not only annoying (and therefore counterproductive), it could get you Twitter account suspended. Kristen Lamb advises against using hashtags in automated tweets, because it’s kind of rude to throw something into a conversation and not be there if people respond. I agree completely.
If you want more on how hashtags are used online and in real life, Wikipedia has an interesting article on it.
Want more A-Z fun? Mosey in this direction.
*I get so many of these in my twitter feed that I’ve stopped reading the main stream. I only read from my “real tweets” list, which is where I stick everyone who tweets things that are interesting and/or entertaining, or at least posts about things that are not #buymybook #buymybook #fortheloveofgodbuymybok
**As far as I can tell, this function is basically worthless on Facebook unless people’s posts are public. I guess it would work for business pages that are looking for views, though.