I didn’t think this post was needed but apparently so.
What is a hashtag? It is a word, or group of words with no spaces or punctuation, preceded by #. On Twitter, and now on Facebook and Instagram, soon the entire world (but please not verbally), it allows you to tag your tweet or post with a searchable term. That is basic function no. 1. Say you are watching a TV show and tweeting. You end each post with #MurdochMysteries. Sometimes you need to put the broadcaster in there because there are different Canadian and US broadcasts so #FPCTV vs #FPIon (for Flashpoint). Then other fans can search the hashtag and see all the posts whether they are following you or not. That works great for tweeting television and for attending conferences or following along with CRTC hearings.
Who comes up with a hashtag? Conference organizers set it, broadcasters and producers set it but for the rest they come about by consensus. If the ones that are set don’t work then consensus will find a new one that does work so you might want to think of the rules of hashtags if it is your job to set it.
1. They are short. You are asking people to remove possible characters from their 140 character limit so keep it as short as possible. Stick to what’s necessary. If it is absolutely necessary to have your broadcaster in the hashtag then keep it (eg. #FPCTV) but if it’s not the fans will likely drop it (eg. PlayedCTV). If it is necessary to put the year in do you really need to put 2013 and not 13? But do you really need that year??
2. Search to make sure that your hashtag isn’t already being used by something else. Remember the purpose. You want people to search the hashtag and follow along. That doesn’t work if you want to talk about Canadian TV but the hashtag is already in use for US chat shows, for example.
3. No punctuation. Only the letters before the punctuation will be an active hashtag.
4. It should make sense for what you are trying to identify with the hashtag. If you are a small group, say those following a CRTC hearing, you can be a bit obscure like #91h or #GLR but if you want a wider audience you need to be really clear.
5. Consider an already acceptable hashtag that is in use. Is it necessary to reinvent the wheel or specifically brand your exercise? If you adopt one that is in use you will become part of an existing conversation instead of trying to start your own from scratch. Easier, eh?
What about all those long hashtags or strange ones like #whatdoyoumeanitsFridayalready or #wheelsup. These would be for advanced users ;). They give flavour to a tweet and aren’t intended to be searchable. Sometimes they become searchable re-used hashtags through use (like #loungesoup or #wonkcake) but usually they are one time only hashtags used to add emotion to a tweet, which can often read emotionless. I’m partial to them myself.
If I’ve missed any of the rules or uses of hashtags, let me know.
Update: For a little hashtag and grammar fun check out this post: https://medium.com/we-live-in-the-future/1bb14533fbfd (h/t @elizadushku – another fan of hashtags).