H is for #Hashtags

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.

See also:


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. πŸ™‚

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.




About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with five cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. www.katesparkes.com www.tanithfrost.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

19 responses to “H is for #Hashtags

  • grapelipgloss

    Seriously though, I don’t have an opinion either way about Hashtags. Unless you’re thinking of using the word as a name for your child. Then you should be charged with child abuse.

  • kathils

    Huh. See, you just taught me something new. I didn’t realize the searchable feature of hashtags. Interesting. I’m going to go practice tweeting now.

    Um…but…I’m kind of missing your WIPpets. #CrackTheWIP

  • helen jameson

    Too many hashtags are bloody irritating! Thanks, Kate, for hipping me to hashtags.

  • L. Marie

    #Great post, Kate! So informative! #Hope you’re feeling better.

  • madlaura

    A friend posted something in Facebook last week that was so full of # and @ that it was actually difficult to read.
    That said, you need to start putting that darn hashtag in posts with Ikeisms and Simonisms.

  • cfjeanjean

    I LOVE that video! My husband and I would goof around saying “hashtag” in front of everything, until we accidentally did it in public and people thought we were seriously weird….. Which we kind of are! haha

    I’m with you though, I hate it when people overhashtag stuff, it feels like they’re trying to shove themselves in everyone’s face.

    #hashtag (I have seen people use this one in earnest…..Seriously….)

    (hope you’re all better and you got lots of reading done πŸ™‚ )

  • cfjeanjean

    LOL – Hadn’t even realised what happened if you took off the TAM.

    In French, bic means byro, so that conjures up a whole new level of dirt πŸ˜‰

  • kebirch

    Oh how I LOVE that Jimmy Fallon skit πŸ™‚ It makes me giggle every time I watch it!

  • Gene'O

    Yeah. I get it. Here’s how I explain it:

    1. Use hastags to index comment (I tweet to #bloggers, #writing, and #wordpress quite often).

    2. A certain number of hastags just for punctuation is kind of obligatory. LIke, if someone thanks me for a retweet or a mention, I might say, you are #VeryWelcome or #AlwaysAPleasure if I’ve known them for awhile.

    3. You’re right about excessive hashtagging being annoying. two or three in a tweet, is my rule.

    4. Also, I don’t care either way, myself, but a lot of people prefer clean headlines, so sometimes I edit the custom message in the publicize settings to that I can use the hashtags without having them in the title of my post (but I like the way you’re using that one here).

    5. Even though hashtags work on Facebook, lots of casual facebook users are confused by them.

    Best of luck with the challenge! I’m following you on twitter now, and am @sourcererblog (that’s a blog I edit, doing the challenge with my writing blog which should link to my comment).

  • Caryn McGill (@CarynMcGill)

    Here for the A-Z challenge. Fun meeting new people and sampling blogs. Love that Jimmy Fallon skit, and pretty much everything he does. That’s how I learned what a hashtag was in the first place! Enjoy the rest of the challenge! Caryn @writeonsisters.com

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