The magic of hashtags

If you still think Twitter is just a nonsensical collection of people’s inane ramblings about trivia … well you just might be right. There certainly is that side to Twitter. But if you want to see the other side … if you want to turn this 140-character chaotic community center from an annoying prattle of drivel into a social and educational goldmine, I have just the tip for you to get started – hashtags.

Yes, hashtags will revolutionize your Twitter experience. And they are as easy to use as a keyboard. Anyone can add a hashtag (such as #reading) to any Tweet. On the day I am writing this, the most popular hashtag is #amitheonlyone, as in Am I the only one? A quick look produces this … amitheonlyone:

  • Who thinks they should legalize marijuana?
  • That is not obsessed with Justin Bieber?
  • Who randomly gets extremely irritated over nothing?
  • Has been on a blind date with something they already met?

OK, yes, this particular hashtag produces more drivel, but at least you get the idea how it works. The amitheonlyone hashtag is so popular right now it is hard to keep up with the flow of Tweets. (#justinbieber, by the way, is another very popular hashtag. If you’re like me and didn’t know who this teen pop star is, you can find out all about him on Wikipedia.)

This word cloud from tweetstats.com shows the top 50 Twitter hashtags and search words of all time.

Now here’s the thing … hashtagging isn’t all just silly fun and games. The hashtag organizes and targets conversations to subjects – and people – that matter to you.You can tag your own Tweet simply by adding a hashtag to it – such as #education (I work with educators). Then you can click on a #education hashtag from any Tweet or do a search within Twitter for that hashtag. That will bring up all the Tweets that contain that particular hashtag. Wella. You just became part of a targeted conversation. Want to talk about social studies? Yes, you can talk about it with others interested in the same topic by hashtagging #socialstudies. Algebra? Yes, there is an active #algebra hashtag. Heck there’s even a hashtag for people who want to talk about #hashtags. Or you can start your own hashtag.

Last week, I “attended” the Ragan Social Media Conference in Atlanta via Webcast and joined in many conversations by using the hashtag #ragancoke (the conference was at the Coca-Cola headquarters). Over the weekend, I kept up to date with breaking news – and joined in spurts of conversation – by using hashtags #tsunami, #hitsunami, #hawaiitsunami, #chile and #chileearthquake. People from all over the world were sharing their thoughts – and news – about these breaking events on Twitter. At times, as I observed, Twitter was spitting out more than a dozen Tweets per second on #hitsunami.

Hashtags.org keeps track of hashtag trends. This chart shows the huge volume of activity on Saturday for #chile.

Now, what interests you? Go to Twitter and create or search for a hashtag of your own making. Hash it out, and have some fun!

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