The Truth About #Hashtags: Making the Most of Your 140 Characters

A good tweet is like poetry.

With a few crafty turns of phrase, you can change your tweet into something that reaches and engages your audience in conversation.  But, with only 140 characters to work with on Twitter, every character counts.  Somehow, in those 140 characters, you need to convey a well-crafted message, while at the same time ensuring that your target audience will be able to find your tweet.  This is where hashtags come in.  A lot of times on my Twitter feed, I see a very short message (that doesn’t say much) followed by a stream of hashtags.  Not only are posts like this less engaging than a well-worded, 140 character post, they seem like a stretch.  It’s as if the message is less important than getting noticed, which might get you noticed (and then ignored by the Twittersphere for the rest of time).


So, what are hashtags and why are they important? Hashtags are keywords preceded by the pound sign.  Hashtags bring the thousands of conversations happening on Twitter at any given time into organized topic tethers, making it easier to search for and view like-ideas.  While there aren’t rules for creating hashtags, SocialMediaPhobe has a list of guidelines:

  • Hashtag target keywords. This will help people find your tweet, and enable them to make comments using the same hashtag to form a thread.
  • Which keywords to use?  This depends on your goal. Are you joining a conversation? If so, include the hashtag originally used, and copy it carefully.  Are you starting a new conversation? Search to find out which hashtags have already been used, and come up with a related, but different hashtag for your thread.
  • Use capital letters to start a new word rather than leaving spaces between them.  Like this: #SocialMeidaPhobe.
  • Make sure hashtags relate to your post.  Don’t just throw a popular hashtag in because you think you’ll get more followers.  To increase engagement, you need to add value to the conversation, not just retweet or rehash old content in an attempt to increase your popularity.
  • Try to stick to one to three hashtags.
  • Integrate the hashtags into your message.  Rather than adding a list of hashtags at the end of your tweet (and using up a good deal of your 140 characters), take a moment to think about your message and how you can work the hashtag in. People using Twitter quickly learn to read through hashtags; if you do it right, your followers won’t stumble or be confused by the pound sign.

Here are some examples of the grocery-list approach to hashtagging:

This one is off to a good start, but adds a ton of hashtags at the end.  Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 10.09.14 AM This tweet could be rewritten like so: Reduce #SchoolAnxiety: Focus on facts. #parentingtips by Mia Van Scha (followed by the link).Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 10.08.04 AM

This tweet could also be more effective.  “Looking to lower your #BloodPressure ? Add beet juice to your #diet. (And then the source).Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 10.18.33 AM

Here are some examples of effective integration: Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 10.06.38 AMScreen shot 2013-03-27 at 5.36.22 AMScreen shot 2013-04-30 at 10.12.30 AM

Many organizations don’t have a lot of time or resources to dedicate toward their social media use, but strategic planning (having a goal for your use, whether it’s to increase the engagement of brand-loyal customers or to grow your business) and using the tools appropriately only takes time initially, while you are learning.  A few minutes of planning and thinking about your message is better than burning out your followers with too many unengaging, hard-to-find tweets.