Saturday, November 24, 2012

on hashtags: who needs 'em

ever use twitter?  no?  then please move along... nothing to see here.

but if yes...  do you know what a hashtag is?  hmm... are you sure?

c’mon, everyone knows this right?  you tweet about something, just find the keywords in there and drop a # in front of those, like this:

right?  not really.  the fact is, sometimes hashing helps, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes it makes no difference, and sometimes it actually works against you.

it’s simple...

step 1:  use a hashtag when it helps someone find your tweet.
step 2:  don’t use a hashtag when it doesn’t help, or even makes it harder to find your tweet.

sounds kinda "duh", but it’s not. the key is in figuring out the difference.  in the end, it's more important to know when to not use a hashtag as it is to use one.

why?:  because the only reason why you spend time tweeting is so that most people who might have an interest in what you’re saying, get to hear you say it, and so that you can all then participate in the conversation.

first, what are other twitter advice blogs saying?:

they say "keep it short":  well, sure.  also true about your twitter name, and everything else about your tweet.  some might say 140 char isn’t a lot, but you’ve seen those tweets that are 100-140 char long.  who reads them?  our time is short, move along.

they say "keep them unique":  well, sure.  also true for anything else you search for using any social media tool or even any google search.  but in the end, it isn't like hashtags are registered or regulated.  anyone can use them.

some simple tips for quitting hashtags

tip #1:  omg...  first... do a twitter search on your tag to see if anyone else is using it.  and... for the same purpose you want to use it.  if no one is, then don’t hash it because no need using it to make your tweet findable if no one's looking.  for example, i was going to tweet about the new york giants, so i started with #giants just to find that there are conversations about football and baseball in there.  so then i searched #nyg and #bigblue to find not so much traffic.  finally i found most of the conversation is tagged with #nygiants, so i used that one because that's where the chatter is.

tip #2:  if you want to be a part of a conversation, and the words you think will get you in are unique enough, don’t hash it.  words like shakespeare, nascar, nfl, facebook, knicks, thanksgiving, and astronaut

tip #3:  stay away from underscores, hyphens or other special characters that cause smartphone users to have to toggle their keyboards or shift to upper-case.  just squish it together, we won’t get confused, we promise.  everyone is using #stanleycup not #Stanley_Cup (or they would, if the nhl wasn't on lockout).

tip #4:  tweets made available for searches don’t last more than a few days, so really no need to be more specific than that.  example:  for our developer summit conference in california in march, we used #devsummit.  for the summits in november in europe we used... yep... #devsummit.  not #devsummiteurope or #devsummit2012.  tweets are too fleeting for that.

some examples of when hashtags are not needed:

if a word is unique enough, putting a # in front of it is simply not necessary.  The name obama is fairly unique as the topic in a tweet.  we get it, you’re talking about the president.  why use #obama?  those who are searching for tweets about the prez will be better off searching for obama, because it’ll find tweets containing obama and #obama.  Search #obama and you miss obama.

the company i work for sells a software product called “arcgis”.  reasonably unique.  too often i see people dropping a hash in front of it.  why?  it burns a character.  but even more important... if i search on #arcgis, i only get #arcgis.  but if i search on arcgis, i get both arcgis and #arcgis.  better.

in the example at the top of this article, the terms Socialist, Marxist, and POTUS are also unique. why hash them?

but there are still times when a hashtag helps:

conversations about last month's hurricane that struck the east coast did benefit from being an actual hashtag:  #sandy, since otherwise your search for info would also catch tweets about other people (sandy koufax, sandy alomar) or places named sandy (sandy hook, new jersey [also hit by hurricane sandy]) or things that are sandy.

during washington capitals hockey games the hashtag people tend to use is #caps.  good thing, because that word could mean a lot of things and when it does appear in a tweet, it's usually not the keyword unless it's about the hockey team.

in short:  just tweet about what you want to say.  if the keywords are ambiguous, hash them.  if the keywords are unique then don't, else you could make it harder for other tweeters to find what you're saying.