Hashtags are amazing. Not just because they offer such a clever way of grouping content, searching and adding context. Not even because they were used on IRC long before Twitter even thought of. It is because they have invaded the public consciousness in an irrevocable way that will continue to affect our world for generations to come.
Think about it, when was the last time you made a hashtag reference and someone didn’t know what you were talking about? What do you think of every time you see a # sign?
How many websites are now using this format, including sites that were straight up against the idea like Facebook?
But for all the attention it has gotten, we have been remarkably careless with our hashtags. Many people don’t seem to understand how they work, and they misuse the tool. Which is a fast way for them to suffer a backlash, sometimes without even knowing they have.
Here are a few common ways people abuse the hashtag system, and what should be done instead.
Make hashtags natural part of the tweet:
- The Bad: Using a bunch of hashtags in every single tweet in order to attract the attention of anyone who might possibly be able to benefit from it.
- The Good: It might seem like a good idea to stuff a tweet full of every possible relevant hashtag. But this takes up your precious character limit and looks tacky. Instead, use one or two hashtags in a tweet, and if possible try and hashtag a word in the tweet itself. For example, you could write “I found the best #vegetarian pizza recipe ever!” Now you don’t have to add #vegetarian to the end of the tweet.
Hashtags should make sense:
- The Bad: Using random hashtags that may or may not be important in the tweet itself, just because it is slightly related.
- The Good: Getting over zealous with your hashtagging is easy to do. I have seen people hashtag every single word in a tweet, just so they came up on a search for every one. This is ridiculous…a hashtag should only be the subject, genre or emotion behind a post. So saying “I #found the #best #vegetarian #pizza #recipe ever!” is not at all what you should be going for. However, you could say “I found the best #vegetarian pizza recipe ever! #yum” and it would be fine.
- The Bad: Hashtag hijackers will take random hashtags that have gained popularity or are trending and use them to piggy back for views. Their tweet has nothing to do with the hashtag itself, and it causes problems for the original person who penned a specific keyword.
- The Good: Feel free to use a hashtag that has gained popularity. Even if the actual meaning of your tweet is slightly different in context. Just be aware of the purpose to the tag, and don’t swipe it in a desperate attempt to become visible. It makes you look like a spammer, and it is bad twitequette.
Hashtags should have a purpose:
- The Bad: Being at a special event can be exciting, and tweeting about it is a great way to share the experience with others who are both there and couldn’t make it themselves. Using the hashtag too often and without purpose, however, is never appreciated.
- The Good: Avoid flooding your Twitter feed with updates using the hashtag, even if you are continuously tweeting about it. Instead, save the hashtag for special tweets or more important updates, and refrain from using it on others. The only exception is if you are holding a live chat during an event or a Twitter chat, in which case you need your own hashtag anyway.
We should all be using hashtags regularly, both on and off Twitter where relevant. But we should be using them in the right way, otherwise the whole process is counterproductive and potentially harmful to your social media efforts. No one likes an impolite or aggressive hashtagger.
Luckily, it isn’t that difficult to avoid the worst offenses, and most others can be forgiven. Follow the advice above and you should be just fine.
Have some tips on using hashtags correctly? Let us know in the comments.