What are Hashtags?
In social media, a hashtag is a word or phrase with a # affixed at the front of it, like #teacher, #classroomsetup, or #happysummerbreakishere. If a phrase, there are no spaces between words. Numerals and special characters are not used in hashtags. According to internet lore, Chris Messina, a social networking innovator, was the first one to use a hashtag on August 23, 2007 on Twitter. In the internet days of yore (late 1980s and 1990s), hashtags were used in IRC groups (Internet Relay Chat) to label certain topics or groups. Now hashtags appear on TV, music videos, on the sides of Metro buses, and even billboard ads. In Seattle, they’ve been springing up like dandelions on a summer lawn. What about where you live? Hashtags cross generational lines. The other day at dinner my daughter said, “Hashtags are for teenagers, not grown-ups. Don’t use them, please!”
How do you use hashtags?
Hashtags are used in social media posts to:
1. Start a conversation. For example, use #assistivetech if you have a question about assistive technology for a student with severe dysgraphia. Let’s say you post #assistivetech at the end of your tweet: What’s the best software/tech. for students with severe dysgraphia? #assistivetech That way a teacher who might be an expert in assistive technology, or perhaps a software company who wants teachers to pilot their technology in the classroom can find you. Then you can start tweeting back and forth, and perhaps even connect offline to figure out a solution.
CAUTION: Before you do a big launch or promo, make sure to check what the hashtag is trending as (if at all), to make sure you’re not lumped together with a dicey subject. Designer Kenneth Cole made more than a fashion faux pas when he used #Cairo during the Egyptian protests in 2011.
2. Join a conversation. Hashtags are a way for people to self-organize. Egyptian activists found twitter invaluable during the protests in January 2011. If you want to join a conversation, or see what’s trending on twitter, you can search here. You can use Twitter search to find trends, read tweets, and jump in the conversation. There are also specific twitter chats at given times of the day, on a variety of subjects, ranging from professional development in given subject areas to #foodiechats. (You can probably figure what that chat’s about! :>)
Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) lists a schedule of education-related twitter chats, compiled by Tom McMurray (@thomascmurray) and Chad Evans (@cevans5095). Blumengarten taught in New York City for over 32 years leads several ed. chats and has also catalogued internet and social media resources for teachers, students, and parents. To search pinterest, you’ll see pins tagged with that particular hashtag. On a side note, you can use Postris to see visually what’s trending on Pinterest. At this time, though, you can’t search Postris by hashtags. For Facebook, simply type in the # followed by the word or phrase you’re searching for (remember, no spaces) in the search bar. Note that hashtags with a yellow arrow next to them that say “promoted” are generally advertisements.
3. Greater exposure The rabblerousing worldwide group of teachers and administrator uses the hashtags #blendedlearning and #edtech, among others. Using those particular hashtags helps increase exposure. 4. Searching for specific topics If you’re a special education teacher, and you’d like to connect with other professionals in your niche, search # Spedchat. You’ll see all kinds of posts related to special education, you can click on them, and then decide whether or not you’d like to follow that person. For the Unofficial List of Twitter Hashtags, teacher Chiew Pang (@aClilToClimb) has compiled a list here.
What social networks use hashtags?
At this writing, many, many social networks use hashtags. Of course Twitter uses them, and Facebook recently hopped on the hashtag bandwagon. Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, and Tumblr all use hashtags…the list continues to expand as more social networks emerge.
3 common Hashtag “Punctuation” Errors
- Hashtagging every single word #Must. #Have. #Chocolate. #Now.
- Adding a hashtag to the same word more than one time in one post Today is our eleventh #anniversary. Where will we go tonight for our #anniversary dinner? Last #anniversary we ate at Salty’s.
- Chopping up keywords/phrases: Let’s say your keyword is “apple pie.” Then your hashtag would be #applepie. If you write #apple #pie, you get two keywords “apple” and “pie.” This can totally mess up your results if you are looking to get exposure for the keyword “apple pie” or to connect with other apple pie aficionados.
- Run-on hashtags That’s what I like to call hashtags that are TOO LONG! #eschewobfuscation or #commoncorestandardscomingyourway are examples of annoyingly long hashtags. Keep hashtags short and easy to remember.
- Using hashtags in formal writing or in life offline. Has my husband Kevin in the picture above taken hashtagging a little too far?
How many hashtags should you use?
I recommend that you keep it at 5 or fewer. If you use too many hashtags, your post could look spammy. It’s kind of like accessorizing- you want just enough so your outfit stands out, but not so much that you look tawdry. However, on Instagram folks often use the all-you-can-eat version of hashtagging. I have seen some pictures with at least 20 hashtags plastered below them! When in doubt, less is more. If you use all the trending hashtags on Twitter at once, or just use them to get attention (kind of like a student who shouts out in class), and not really say anything pertinent to the conversation, your tweets could get marked as spam. Worse, your twitter account could get blocked.
That’s all, folks, for this episode of Social Media for Teachers 101: What Are Hashtags? How Do You Use Hashtags?
See you again soon,
P.S. Remember when # was just called the pound sign?