8 Important Things You Need to Know about Twitter Hashtags

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With about 800 million accounts and nearly 300 million active daily users, Twitter is about a pitching wedge away from Facebook, in terms of social media popularity.

What scares some people about Twitter is the arcane language that only Twitter users truly understand. Examples include, “retweet, tweeple, tweeps,” and, of course, arguably the most important Twitter vocabulary word of all, “hashtag.”

The Twitter hashtag can be difficult to comprehend, until you use it. If you’re concerned that you’ll misuse the hashtag (#OMGImessedupthishashtagthing), the video above and the following information will make you an expert.

8 Things You May Not Know about Twitter Hashtags

1-Twitter hashtags create conversations

Although people love to use the hashtag everywhere for fun (see cute hashtag joke above), the primary objective of a hashtag is to create a conversation online–specifically, on Twitter. The hashtag is converted automatically to a web link on Twitter, which becomes a new Twitter stream, containing all tweets that include that hashtag. For example, if I am teaching history and I ask students to tweet to the hashtag #CivilWarChat, every tweet containing the hashtag #CivilWarChat will be aggregated into the same stream for all people using that hashtag to see. This literally creates a conversation on Twitter.

2-Anything can be a Twitter hashtag

Here’s where novice Twitter users get confused; you can blame Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake for this confusion (see video blow). Yes, if I type hashtag #ReadyForAColdOne, Twitter will turn this into a web link hashtag conversation. You can click the link on Twitter and see what is being tweeted to this hashtag. The thing is, there won’t be much more than my tweets, because who in the world is using the hashtag #ReadyForAColdOne? (Ironically, when I searched this hashtag, there were a few tweets there, so maybe it’s not a perfect example). The true purpose of the Twitter hashtag is to generate a conversation that can involve individuals in a classroom or people from around the world. For example, the Twitter hashtag #edchat is one of the most popular hashtags, as it creates a conversation involving educators from all around the world.

3-Twitter hashtags are both synchronous and asynchronous. . . sort of

Twitter hashtag conversations are synchronous when, for example, a teacher instructs students to tweet to the hashtag #CivilWar. She may put the Twitter stream on an Interactive Whiteboard for the entire class to see, while students tweet constantly during class to this hashtag. What makes Twitter hashtag conversations asynchronous is that you can tweet to a hashtag anytime–even when not interacting with a group at the same time. For example, thousands of people read tweets in the #edchat stream daily (remember, clicking on or searching for a hashtag in Twitter aggregates all tweets to that hashtag into one easy-to-read stream. So, if I know that thousands of people are reading tweets to #edchat, and I want thousands of people to see my tweet, I can add the Twitter hashtag #edchat to my tweet, and, voila, thousands of people are seeing it. They may not respond as they would in a truly synchronous chat, which is what makes this use of the Twitter hashtag somewhat asynchronous.

4-Using Twitter hashtags can increase your following

One of the most popular questions I get at workshops and in my online Twitter course is “How do I get people to follow me?” Twitter newbies have few followers; if you have two followers, your tweets will be seen by two people. However, if you send a tweet to a Twitter hashtag like #edchat, your two followers and the thousands of people reading the #edchat stream will see your tweet. If you tweet a link to brilliant content, people will see you as a valuable resource of information, and they’ll follow you.

5-The magic number is no more than 2 (OK, I know that’s not really a number)

Some wonderful research indicates that the magic number for Twitter hashtags in a tweet is 2. In other words, if you pack your tweet with three or more hashtags, fewer people will read your tweet. When you use one or two hashtags, interaction with your tweet increases dramatically. Why is this? It’s hard to say, but the evidence is clear.

6-Twitter doesn’t care about placement or capitalization

A Twitter hashtag can be placed anywhere in a tweet (try to make your hashtags part of a sentence, which creates clarity). Twitter hashtags are not case sensitive. For example, your tweet to #EdChat will be included in the #edchat Twitter stream and vice-versa.

7-Twitter hashtags must be unique for small group conversation

If discussing the Civil War, it seems obvious to instruct students to tweet to the hashtag #CivilWar. Will this work? Sure. The problem, though, is your students’ tweets may be mixed with hundreds of others, confusing your classroom Twitter chat. As you can see, the Twitter hashtag #CivilWar is quite a busy stream. A nifty way around this is to add a unique brand to your classroom hashtag. For example, I might ask students to tweet to #BarnesChat. Because only my students know about this Twitter hashtag, they will be the only ones using it. Another spin on the unique Twitter hashtag is to use it with colleagues or departments. I taught at Memorial Junior High School, so if I wanted my department colleagues to chat about a particular unit or method, I could have them tweet to #MJHela (Memorial Junior High English language arts).

8-Twitter hashtags and the rule of 140

Remember, Tweets must be no longer than 140 characters, including spaces. The Twitter hashtag #MrBarnesLanguageArts1 is 22 characters. Combine this with a student’s Twitter handle, @MelissaTJohnson, for example, and 38 characters are used. Melissa has only 102 characters left for the important information. So, if I teach 5 class periods, a better Twitter hashtag would be #Barnes1; it’s just eight characters, and it will serve me and my students as well as the gigantic 22-character Twitter hashtag.

Do you want to be a Twitter power user and earn college credit, while you learn? Check out my online course for educators, Plugged In: How Twitter Can Transform Your Teaching in and out of the Classroom.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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