Webb on the Web: Advanced Twitter: The "hashtag"

by Amy Webb
Nov 24, 2008 in Social Media

So you've got a Twitter account, you've started posting and have some followers... what comes next?

Try out using the hashtag (#) to enhance your community and your posting. Hashtags were developed to help people create groups without having to change the software that powers Twitter.

Often times, when there's a big event or conference taking place, Twitter users will decide on a common keyword and then include it in every tweet so that others can follow the conversation.

Here's how a big news organization used the hashtag to cover our recent election in the U.S. During the U.S. vice presidential debate, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch encouraged twitterers to watch the broadcast and include #vpdebate with every relevant post. They could then search for all of the commentary by visiting search.twitter.com and searching under #vpdebate.

It was a success! From the blog of Kurt Greenbaum, the director of social media at the Post-Dispatch:

The day before the debate, Oct. 1, Twitterers used it 11 times. It's first use on Debate Day was early and by someone I didn't know (Kristin Smith) from a place I can't identify. I also reached out to some of my Twitter friends and asked them to use it during the day. They all retweeted about it, and made use of it - as did colleagues in the newsroom.

By about 4 p.m. central time, Twitter Search started showing that the #vpdebate tag was among its top 10 "trending" topics and at about 5 p.m., it was No. 6 on the list. By 6 p.m., nearly 100 tweets had been made with that tag. Two hours later, when the debate began, another 400 had been added. And as the debate was underway, I couldn't read the tweets fast enough. From debate time until I stopped looking at 11:30 p.m., it was trending No. 1 on Twitter Search.

Another useful tool? You can use search.twitter.com and hashtags to track zeitgeist. If you're someone who follows trends or even a particular company, you should consider running a search a few times a day on various terms of interest to you. For example, I'm interested in mobile... so I often search #mobile or #cellphone or #mobiles. Try it yourself to see what you find!

The key is to conceive of a good tag and then spread the word. Once you have built a community and it's feeding comments, links and other data, you can wildly enhance your reporting and observation of just about any topic. And if you don't want to stay on search.twitter.com to watch the action, you can also subscribe to that feed via RSS and simply track all of the new entries using your reader!

For more information, visit hashtags.org and @hashtags on Twitter. Visit here to download a free Twitter how-to guide.

To read all of Amy Webb's Webb on the Webb columns, click here.

Follow me on Twitter! Amy Webb is a digital media consultant and head of Webbmedia Group, LLC. Find more multimedia tips and ideas at her blog, http://www.mydigimedia.com. Webbmedia Group is a vendor-neutral company. Any opinions expressed about products or services are formed after testing, research and interviews. Neither Amy Webb nor Webbmedia Group or its employees receives any financial or other benefits from vendors.