Noticed the # sign on Twitter, but not sure what it is? You're not alone. It took me many months to get a good explanation and a full understanding of what the Twitter world calls "hashtags."
For me, hashtags are a way categorize a tweet, almost like giving it a "tag" or "label". So if more than one person is tweeting about a certain subject, they can create a hashtag (or see what hashtag others are using for that topic) so all those tweets can be grouped together.

So why would you want to group tweets? Well, let's say you're watching "The Bachelorette" (certainly not me ;-)) and you're curious what your fellow tweeps have to say about the guy she dropped last night (someone tells me his name was Reid). Well, try typing #thebachelorette into Twitter Search, and in real time, you can watch what everyone else is saying about the same subject and jump in the conversation if you so choose.

They're also good for "Twitter parties", which I discussed in a previous post, as they allow you to follow everyone who's participating in a given party by using a set hashtag. Tweetgrid.com has a great party tool that sorts out only the tweets with a certain hashtag in them, as well as having multiple columns to sort out the moderator's tweets, your tweets and all tweets with the hashtag.

There are also "chats" scheduled at set times amongst various groups like the #journchat for journalists held every Monday night.

You may also have noticed if you use certain Twitter applications that many of them, such as TweetDeck, now automatically add in the hashtag if it's in a tweet you are responding to. Handy.

Now, let's say you have a subject you'd like to discuss with others or you want to categorize your tweets so they can be followed and you're not sure if a hashtag exists. First off, if it's something like The Bachelorette, take a stab at it, ie #thebachelorette, or go to Twitter or Twitter Search and see what topics are "trending" or the most popular. If it's something happening right then, it will be probably be trending and you can see what the hashtag is.

If you want to make up your own, type your favorite into Twitter Search and see if it pulls anything up. If it does, and it's not related to your topic, pick something different. I'd also suggest trying to come up with something that's not likely to be copied by someone else at a later date. For example, I started #TargetMoms regarding an issue where moms across the country did not get a carseat they had ordered from Target. It never really took off and in a week or so it began being used by a group of moms pro-Target. Not helpful.

You can also visit Hashtags.org which lists most of the hashtags on Twitter and see if the one you want is taken.

Do you use hashtags very often? Got hashtag questions? Send 'em my way and I'll see if I can answer them. Happy hashtagging!

About Lyn Mettler
Lyn is the mother of two young boys, a social media nerd and the president of Step Ahead Inc., a company which combines the best of traditional public relations with social media campaigns to maximize visibility for clients both online and off. She is the social media featured blogger for TwitterMoms.com and also blogs regularly on her company Web site. Follow her on Twitter at @webprgirl.

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Comment by Lyn Mettler on August 16, 2009 at 3:45pm
I'll remember that. That "weird number sign thingy" ;-)
Comment by Holly Bowne on August 16, 2009 at 5:50am
Thank you SO much! I've been confused about hashtags (which I was calling "that weird number sign thingy") for the longest time! Your blog has been MOST helpful!! :)
Comment by Lyn Mettler on July 28, 2009 at 12:42pm
Sure, that would be great! Glad it was helpful.
Comment by Single Rose on July 28, 2009 at 11:36am
Hi Lyn - yea, I was wanting permission to use your hash tag article on another site. I personally found it very interesting, as I'm pretty new to twitter and I think my users would appreciate it too.
Comment by Wendy Williamson on July 20, 2009 at 10:30am
Great post Lyn. Just getting into Twitter and it is a bit confusing. I'll be looking for your other posts to learn more.
Comment by Lyn Mettler on July 15, 2009 at 6:28pm
Catherine, I think hashtags are still important as it provides a consistent way to group a set of tweets, whereas just using words, some people may use different words to describe a certain topic so you can't be sure you're following everything that's being said. Also, seeing that # sign cues you to its category and that others may be following that as well. Does that make sense?
Comment by Erica Brooks on July 15, 2009 at 4:21pm
Thanks for sharing. I finally get it!
Comment by Tati on July 15, 2009 at 7:46am
Thanks Lyn, Great information!
Comment by Lyn Mettler on July 15, 2009 at 4:18am
Yea! Glad it was helpful. Hashtags can be tough to figure out.
Comment by Gutsy Writer on July 14, 2009 at 8:08pm
What a great explanation on your post about Hashtags and Twitter I know more about blogging but am having a hard time getting the hang of Twitter.




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