The American Dialect Society votes on the word of the year and for 2012, they nominated and voted on Hashtag. The ADS’ chair of the New Words Committee, Ben Zimmer, said that the word was a “ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk” It even beat out “Fiscal Cliff”. In fact, the last print edition of Newsweek featured one on its cover. What are hashtags and how do they work?
What are Hashtags?
Hashtags were born though a need to organize Twitter conversations and posts into subjects or “tags”. Essentially at the end of a tweet (a message you send via Twitter) you add the # symbol then the topic or subject of your message. Users can then follow the conversation through twitter searches. You may have noticed them on TV, on ads and more. Here is a great live example, you won’t even need to be a Twitter subscriber:
1) Go to the Twitter search page.
2) You will see the currently trending topics and many will be hashtags
3) Enter #fiscalcliff in the search (Hashtags must be composed without spaces to preserve full capabilities).
You will now see the most up to date conversations about the fiscal cliff.
How to use Hashtags
This is a great tool for marketers to herd conversation to one place. Many companies use this as a contest entry form. For instance, a retailler could say, “Tweet your favorite color jeans and include #freejeans for a chance to win a pair!”. Entries become very easy to track. In this scenario we also recommend that you stipulate the entrants must also follow your brand on Twitter thus adding to your audience.
What about B2Bs? Twitter is a great resource for searching information and hashtags make it even easier. If you are a manufacturer, try searching for #yourproduct. Find out what people are saying. The results may be surprising. This level of social listening is just the start. A complete social monitoring program will always give you more robust results but this is a quick and easy search. Try a few and see what you find!
Cover photo courtesy of Flickr user shovelling son