Digital Whyzdom: All about #hashtags

by Marc Poellhuber

It’s 8am in Atlanta, I am barely awake and the waitress asks: “Will that be grits or hash browns?” Trust me, I know all about befuddlement in the face of new words. You need to know that the term “hashtag” has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary since June 2014. Just what exactly is a “hashtag”?

A hashtag is a series of characters (no spaces allowed) prefixed with the hash character (#) forming a label. This label can be a word but it needs to be specific enough to enable users wishing to discuss a subject to describe their interest. Hashtags are supported by social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram.

Let’s look at an example on Twitter.

The easiest way to start with hashtags is to look at the Trends section, which surveys your Twitter profile and displays hashtags that seemingly fit your tastes. I will modify my profile and add “jazz music lover” and set my location to Montreal. Without a properly filled profile, only very generic hashtags are displayed in the Trends section. I am then going to use the “Change” link in the Trends frame to click on Montreal. The Trends section now shows #Carabins among other tailored Trends for Montreal. Notice that the Carabins subject is hot right now, unlike hyperlinks (underlined words that bring you to another web site), which preserve value over a long time. Hashtags are meant to be short-lived, relevant to real-time events. Clicking on the #Carabins hashtag will display tweets about the famous local football team’s recent win. Each tweet has an author whose Twitter username is prefixed with the @ sign. This is how I can make new contacts interested in commenting on the same event.

Interestingly, is anyone on Monkland using hashtags? Searching for Monkland, I find two users, I will focus on the first one: @MonklandMA (Monkland Merchants Association). Here is a tweet from them: “We LOVE seeing the photos you guys take! Send us more!!! #sharing #Monkland #festival #summercomeback #mtl …”. See all those hashtags? From that tweet I could click on any of them and regroup with Twitter users interested in “sharing”. Maybe “sharing” is not quite specific enough.

The #Monkland tag is more specific, but again it is not directly related to a real-time event. A good real-time hashtag would look like #MklandXMAS2014. People following @MonklandMA would know they can search for local shopping Christmas specials.

Hashtags can create trends — if there are a large number of tweets containing them, you can identify trends via hashtags and get access to real-time conversations about topics represented by this symbol.

The Senior Times will start using hashtags soon. For example, those interested in travel tweets from The Senior Times could search for #STtravelsMTL, and this would be specific enough for Senior Times followers (@TheSeniorTimes) to join the travel conversation. Hashtags, anyone?

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