Make a Hash(tag) of Your Tweets

HashtagKeith Kmett, a user-experience enthusiast whom I met through the social-media magic of Google+, responded to my last post (What Brand RU) with this comment: “I would add that social media can also help your personal brand.” Keith’s note prompted me to add a new section to that post. Below is the new section in standalone form—with all-new images.

A hashtag—a # symbol plus a text string, like #ThisIsAHashtag—is a powerful symbol for getting your words seen. Even if you’ve never sent a tweet (a brief message on Twitter) in your life and think you never will, you ought to know what hashtags can do. If you tweet without hashtags, you limit your visibility. Add a hashtag to any tweet, and you instantly reach many more people.

Here’s an example:


People who were following any of these hashtags at the time could have seen this tweet even if they didn’t follow me. One follower of the #xml hashtag picked up my essay and posted a link to it in his newsletter “The #XML Daily.”[1] I was thrilled to see that my item had been selected. Then I noticed the item below it. I can’t say for sure, but it looked like Japanese. Clearly, the curation of this daily involved less discernment than I had allowed myself to suppose.

You can use hashtags (with or without capitals) with Twitter, Google+, and probably other social media channels that I know nothing about. Hashtags come and go. No one controls them; people use them by unspoken agreement because they work. They give people a way to slip off into side rooms, away from the bustling party.

To find out which hashtags to use, observe. Search. Make up your own. Creative tweeter Aaron Gray says, “My fav use of hashtags is as meta commentary on the post itself. Yesterday, I used the tag #peopleplease, and giggled.” Even if you make up a hashtag that few people will see, those who see it will #takenote.

Don’t barrage people with hashtag-heavy messages, though. Consider this message, which I found, ironically, when I searched to see what people were doing with the hashtag #HASHTAG.

Use social media wisely—as a tool for conversation and engagement, not as a megaphone—and it will help build your brand. Gary Vaynerchuk, who wrote a bestselling book on this topic, emphasizes the importance of getting social-savvy: “Right now, I’d say that social media is a bit like a kidney—you can survive with only one, but your chances of making it to old age are a lot better with two. Eventually, though, I think social media will be as important to a business as a strong heart.”[2]


[1] The #XML Daily,

[2] Gary Vaynerchuk, The Thank You Economy (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 50.

4 thoughts on “Make a Hash(tag) of Your Tweets

  1. Nice post, Marcia. And thanks for the quote! One thing is for sure, there’s no one right way to use Twitter. One person’s humorous metacommentary is another person’s hashtag pollution.

    I see Twitter as a giant network with many many smaller communities of people connected through it. Each of those communities develops it’s own usage patterns and etiquette. To some extent, each community develops its own shared humor and shared knowledge, like a culture. But the communities are actually interconnected, overlapped and layered as individuals are likely members of multiple communities. Within larger communities, there are many sub-communities. The tech-community is very broad, for example. There are entrepreneur communities, investor communities, developer communities, creative communities, geographic communities. It’s complex!

    The hashtag becomes your ticket to visit new communities, study their ways, and decide if you want to become a member (either by following those people or simply interacting with them over the hashtag). But crossing over hashtags into a different community is like going to a foreign country – the people there may not understand your subtle humor or may bristle at your approach. But, sometimes, a shared event can bring many communities together – like natural disaster or or a major national sporting event.

    Perhaps I’ve over thought this a bit, but I think it’s quite interesting to think about from a sociology perspective.

    #overthinkingthings #toomuchcoffee

    • Aaron, I hadn’t thought about hashtags as tools for forming communities that have members and cultures, but now that you lay out these insights, I see what you mean. It’s wise to watch and learn before jumping in to contribute, just as the Peace Corps tells volunteers to do for the first few months of living in a new country.

      You mention shared events. I first “got” the value of hashtags at a workshop. The workshop-specific hashtag, which was written up on the board, gave attendees a way to capture and share notes in real time — a giant communal crib sheet (available even to those who couldn’t attend and also available to attendees after the event). I felt like I had a hundred pair of ears and hands. Also, the hashtag acted as an unobtrusive loudspeaker (a quietspeaker?) for communicating things like “The people in the back rows can’t hear” or “Has anyone seen a pair of green glasses?” or “We’re meeting at a different restaurant afterward.” This kind of “loudspeaker” is especially efficient at big conferences where people are scattered across many rooms or buildings. I still feel funny having my face in my phone, tap-tap-tapping while someone’s speaking at the front of the room, but my face would be down to take notes on paper too — and the notes on paper would benefit fewer people.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.


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