Why are #hashtags so important on Twitter?

If you’re new to Twitter, perhaps you’ve seen Tweets with hash-tags preceding certain words, and wonder exactly what they mean. Even if you’re comfortable using Twitter as a Social Media platform, you still may be confused with exactly how to use hash-tags and what purpose they serve.

What exactly are hash-tags?

On the surface, hash-tags seem like a simple way to ‘tag’ key words in your tweets so that they appear in search results. While that is the most basic function of hash-tags on Twitter, they serve a much more important purpose in the grand Twitter community.

Using a hash-tag symbol “#” in a tweet before a word or specific phrase will help you categorize your Tweet. This is particularly useful when you’re looking to get your Tweets into a specific conversation on Twitter, or when you want to get in on very popular trending topics of the moment. Importantly, it does not matter if your Tweet begins or ends with the word(s) you have hash-tagged. Place a tagged word anywhere in your Tweet and it will still be searchable to other users. For example, “I love #camping” holds the same searchable merit as “#Camping is the best!” for users seeking out the topic “#camping” on Twitter.

Why would you want to be in the conversation?

Not only does a hash-tag separate your Tweet from a sea of content, but it puts your Tweet in with similar messages from other Twitter users who are discussing the same topics. You can click on the hash-tags and be drawn into a mass-conversation taking place about those very topics. If you’re looking to expand your personal network and find Twitter users with similar interests, hash-tags and topic phrases will put you directly in front of these different categories with just a click of your mouse. The more you use these hash-tags, the more popular they become overall. While it isn’t easy for a word or phrase to become a popular trending topic on Twitter, it isn’t impossible, and if your brand is large enough it is quite doable as long as you work to get the hash-tag circulated amongst your Followers.

You may also want to get in on the conversation surrounding a personal passion. The next time you’re watching your favorite television show, take a look at the corners of your screen and see if you spot a hash-tag that the network wants their viewers to use on Twitter. As an example, NBC’s The Voice asks viewers to use the hash-tag #TheVoice when discussing certain episodes, contestants, or judges so that they and other Twitterers can keep up with the conversation and further circulate popularity for their show.

How do hash-tags and topics benefit businesses?

Hash-tags allow businesses to follow conversations pertinent to their products or services, and allows them to find relevant Tweets about such products and services. This both helps businesses stay up-to-date with potential customers and their opinions and desires, as well as allows them to step into relevant conversations. For example, a company concerned with running shoes may search hash-tags like #Jogging, #Running, #Fitness, and #Exercise, or search for a general phrase such as ‘I need new #running shoes‘ for a collection of Tweets which can be responded to. Both of these approaches allow for direct advertising and may draw in potential followers after communication is established. Companies can click on the user accounts of those discussing desired topics, and send @ messages directly to them to initiate conversation. This has the potential to come off as spam, so it shouldn’t be repeatedly or heavily practiced unless a company is well-known.

Let’s take a look at a very successful, popular brand and how they use hash-tags on their Twitter; @Subway sandwiches. Subway makes their own branded hash-tags, seen below, which go out to their 750,000+ Followers when Tweeted and can then be re-posted by their fans in Tweets. For example, #TakeMeToTuscany is a current promotion of Subway’s meant to represent both a Vacation Giveaway they are running as a contest, and their new Tuscan Chicken Melt sandwich. As fans re-tweet and re-post this hash-tag on their own, they are circulating the conversation that Subway has created for this contest and for their sandwich. Subway may also click on the hash-tag themselves and discover what their customers are saying about this topic, then respond where they see fit.

Intelligently, Subway is not forgetting to utilize trending hash-tag topics that do not relate directly to their brand. Seen in the photo below, they are keeping their eyes on current, popular trending hash-tags such as #ThingsYouSayToYourBestFriend and #NationalGirlfriendDay / #NationalBoyfriendDay, using them predominantly so that other global Twitter users will see their Tweets among users of these popular tags. It not only shows variety, but good humor and willingness to participate in conversations taking place in the Twittersphere. This way, they come off as real human beings and not simply a machine spitting out constant company information.

What should you be careful of?

Just like any other Social Media venue, it’s important to follow those casual (but sometimes strict) online communication rules. As an example, spamming and overusing hash-tags in a single tweet is typically frowned upon because it reduces the value of what you’re trying to say, and places your message into too many categories at once. Do your best to choose one or two of the most valuable words or topics and only hash-tag those in particular. You also want to be careful that you’re not participating in topics that violate Twitter’s rules of use, or topics that will be otherwise offensive to other Twitter users, especially if you are representing a business or brand. This will only bring about unwanted attention from other users, and possibly Twitter Customer Service themselves.

Also important to remember is that hash-tags Tweeted from public accounts will be searchable to anyone using Twitter, while hash-tags Tweeted from private accounts will not show up in search results. Ultimately, it is important that if you want to get yourself out there and dive head-first into the public conversation on Twitter, you must put your most interesting foot forward and make each Tweet your own, while still being relevant.

In summary…

  • Hash-tags are placed directly in front of words or phrases
  • They represent currently popular topics, or words and phrases important to you or your brand
  • They make it easier to find Twitter users who are discussing topics of interest to you
  • They make it easier to get involved with popular conversation, or topics of interest
  • Hash-tags Tweeted from public accounts are searchable to anyone, while hash-tags Tweeted from private accounts are not
  • The hash-tagged word can be placed anywhere in the Tweet and still be searchable
  • Use them when you can for more exposure
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