Everything You Need to Know About the #Hashtag

Photo by Shovelling Son

If you spend any amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably seen people using words or phrases with pound signs in front of them, #like #this. On Twitter, this is called a hashtag.

Putting that symbol in front of a word turns it into a searchable link. In other words, you can then click on that #hashtag and see the tweets of everyone else also using it. It’s a way to find people talking about the same thing you’re talking about; it creates a larger conversation all in one feed.

How to Make One

There’s no trick to making a hashtag. You don’t have to register it, log it, or reserve it. All you do is type it, and Twitter will automatically turn it into a clickable search term.

Start with the pound sign (#), but don’t include any spaces or special characters (?’!&, etc.). Spaces and special characters will break your hashtag.

So if you want to use the phrase “author’s choice,” you would need to write it as: #authorschoice or #AuthorsChoice . Neither #author’schoice nor #authors choice will work properly. Some people use caps to make new words easier to read, but this is optional.

Numbers are okay, but don’t start your hashtag with numbers. #2013Conference won’t work. #Conference2013 will, though.

And lastly, don’t forget to keep it short. Hashtags do count toward your 140-character tweet limit, so the longer they are the less space you have to add other text.

Best Ways to Use Them

First, check to see if the hashtag you want is already in use. Depending on what you’re going for, an already in-use hashtag could be a good or bad thing. If you just want to join a larger conversation, you probably want to choose a popular hashtag with a fast turnaround (lots of new tweets coming out). If you’re trying to promote a contest or new chat, you’ll want a hashtag that no one has been using lately to help keep out irrelevant tweets.

Hashtags are great to start a conversation if you have enough clout to make it work. Say you want to hear what people have to say about a new trend in publishing. You can gather the talk into a central spot with a hashtag.

Other useful options include running competitions, like #PitchMadness, starting open chats, like #WritersRoad, or building buzz for your own book by creating a specialized hashtag for fans and supporters, like my friend’s use of #OMGen.

You can also, of course, jump into any existing conversations, including trending topics. The list of trending topics changes regularly, and is on the left side of your timeline on the Twitter website. If any of these topics are relevant to you, you can join the talk on those extremely popular hashtags. This can be a good way to reach more people, but it’s also easy to get lost in the hub-bub, so don’t spend too much time trend-chasing.

All of these are great ways to find and gain new followers. The idea here is to discover people who are talking about the same things you’re talking about. Hashtags can also help relevant peeps (your target audience, if you’re talking about the right things) find you.

And finally, hashtags can also be just for funsies. (Yes I said funsies. Deal with it.) Hashtags can occasionally get ridiculous. Because of this, people like to make fun of them with #SarcasticHashtags. You can use a hashtag to add a punch line to a tweet, clarify your joke, poke fun at yourself, or whatever else might make people giggle. There are also occasionally silly hashtag games that pop up, like #boozebooks.

Worst Ways to Use Them

Using too many hashtags in one tweet makes your tweet look like spam. A single well-chosen hashtag is more powerful than three weak ones.

A single well-chosen hashtag is more powerful than three weak ones.

And remember, hashtags show up as links, so if you have an actual link in your tweet you should use hashtags even more sparingly. My rule of thumb is one or two per tweet, never more than three. If your tweets look like link soup, people will blow right past them. In all the clutter of Twitter, people want less noise and more humans – not hashtag robots.

Likewise, don’t use too many hashtags in your Twitter profile bio. It looks cluttered and can even come across as tacky and desperate. The words in your bio will make you show up in relevant searches even without hashtags, so there’s no need for this. My preference is zero hashtags in the bio, but if you have more than two I would definitely suggest an update.

If you auto-tweet, don’t use the same hashtag each time. It makes your identical tweet show up in the same hashtag timeline over and over. It’s basically spam. Spam is bad. [Related tip: change your hashtag every time for shared blog posts – both your own and others’. So if you manually RT a friend’s tweet, changing the hashtag might reach different users, which is the whole point!]

And the last big no-no is hashtag abuse. You can actually get into Twitter trouble (eep!) by misusing hashtags and/or trending topics. If you use irrelevant hashtags of any kind in an attempt to get more attention in a feed that has nothing to do with what you’re saying, you’re misusing hashtags. If you’re going to use a hashtag, it must actually be relevant to your tweet. In other words, you shouldn’t tweet something like: “I love #MileyCyrus! Read my fantasy novel FREE on Kindle!”

Some Favorite Hashtags for Writers

#FridayReads – Share what book you’re reading this week!

#WriteTip – Find and give advice on tricks that work for writers.

#AmWriting – In the process? Use this tag to find other drafting writers. (Use sparingly.)

#Writing – Anything and everything to do with writing! (Again, use sparingly, or your only followers will end up being other writers. The goal is to find readers, remember?)

#AskAgent – Have a question? Ask in general and hope for an answer, or wait until a specific agent announces they’re doing an #AskAgent session.

#PubTip – Find or give advice about the pub process from those with experience. (But be wary, because like all advice, some is good and some is not.)

~*~

Still have questions about hashtags? Ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

Writers, what are your favorite hashtags?

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About Annie Neugebauer

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet with stories and poems appearing or forthcoming in over fifty venues, including Black Static, Deep South Magazine, Fireside, and Buzzy Mag. She's an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. When Annie’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the great advice. I just joined Twitter a week ago. How do I follow hashtags besides searching for them each time? I haven’t started using Hootsie or TwitterDeck yet. Any recommendation on either of them”?

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    • says

      Hi Natalie! Unfortunately, there’s no way to “follow” hashtags on the actual Twitter website, but it is pretty easy to type them into your search bar to check out the feed whenever you feel like it. Outside apps such as TweetDeck or HootSuite allow the option of having a column for a specific hashtag(s), but I’ve never been a big fan of the outside apps.

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  2. says

    I like this post, Annie. I don’t find Twitter to do much for my novels, but I do find Twitter effective to drive people to my blog. I write short stories too and there’s a #shortstories hashtag that is very effective for connecting to short story readers and writers. Here are some of my favorites: #Litchat, #Goodreads #FridayFlash #horror #avidreaders.

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    • says

      Thanks Paula! Yes, I agree; I find genre-specific hashtags to be a little more useful than the broad ones for the marketing of a single work. I often use #horror, #litfic, or #poetry instead of #novels, for example. That’s a great way to find more specific readers. Great note!

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  3. says

    What a wildly useful article! I’m trying to promote an ebook I’m offering free on my website through Twitter, I must research hashtags and find out which ones my target audience are most likely to be following.

    Thanks so much!

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    • says

      I’m so glad to hear you found it useful! The great thing about hashtags is that you can experiment with different ones and gauge the reaction. If you have a link that you’re sharing several times, for example, try a different # each time to see what drives the most traffic. Then make note for next time!

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    • says

      My pleasure! Hashtags are spreading well beyond Twitter these days — we’re seeing them in Facebook, Google+, etc. — so you’ll likely find a use for them somewhere. Thanks, and good luck!

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  4. says

    Very informative. I’m not quite twitter-pated yet, but when I get the nerve, I’ll be using your blog, Annie, for reference.

    To twitter or not to twitter, and the answer remains a resounding, “Maybe.”

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    • says

      Thanks Mara! I understand; whether or not to dedicate the effort to learning Twitter is something every writer has to decide for herself. It can be a huge time drain, but it can also be a wonderful source of knowledge and connections.

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  5. Susan says

    Well, are you saying that if you are looking for clients of a particular kind you should say something like, #editor or #EditingHelp or #weddingPhotographer or whatever?

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    • says

      Well, not exactly, Susan. Some customers use Twitter and hashtags to find products or services, but probably not too many. A better option is to tweet about things interesting and relevant to your potential customers and get to know them that way. If you provide good content, they’ll follow you, and then you have a connection that can lead to a sale. It’s not about the hard sell, but about personal interactions.

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  6. says

    Annie, how did you become so knowledgeable about Twitter? I have also read your link to manual retweets. Thursday evening I had a complimentary one-on-one session with an editor at our local library. I have been tweeting advice on writing since May using the hashtags #amwriting #howtowritebetter. She suggested using other hashtags. Yesterday I tried using:

    Don’t #Write: “She has a author website.” #Edit it: “She has an author website.

    Today, after seeing your list of “Some Favorite Hashtags for Writers,” I deleted yesterday’s tweet and changed my hashtag to #writetip. I also put it at the end of my tweet as I see many people doing.

    I have started over using what was my first #howtowritebetter tweet on 3 May. I keep a file folder of “mistakes” I find online. I also include changes I make in my own writing as I compose comments on other people’s blogs.

    Thoughts?

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    • says

      Hi Barbara! I mostly learned by doing. I read many good articles as well, and I love to examine what works, what doesn’t, and why. But yes, it sounds like #writetip is the prefect hashtag for what you’re describing. I don’t think you need to go delete your old tweets though, since they’ll be buried in old timelines. In other words, they aren’t doing any harm sitting in your archives, so I wouldn’t go to that trouble.

      Overall, I think tweeting writing tips is a nice way to connect with other writers, but don’t forget to connect with readers too! Best of luck.

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  7. says

    Thank you, Annie. I’m new to all of this (for the longest time, I had a twitter handle that said I_Don’t_Tweet and it amazed me I actually got some followers even though I made zero tweets). I followed others though, and found twitter useful for community news.

    Needless to say, I’ve made some changes–I have a new account and I’m trying to learn how to use it effectively. It is, as you say, a lot of analysis, but blog posts like this one are very encouraging for someone like me. So, Thank you again.

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  8. says

    Awesome post, Annie! Who knew that something so simple could be so powerful? I’m going to start using hashtags today!

    Can you point me to advice on getting new followers? I am new to twitter and I’m told that the growing gap between those following me vs. those who I follow is getting dangerously wide. Not sure what that means, but I need to close that gap somehow with new followers. Clearly it’s not an “I follow you, you follow me” economy.

    Perhaps using hashtags will help?

    Thanks!

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  9. says

    Hi Sarah! Yes, I’ve written a post on my website about this. It’s called “How to Get Followed Back.” http://annieneugebauer.com/2012/03/20/twitter-tips-part-1-how-to-get-followed-back/ You’re right that it’s not reciprocal, but there are ways you can improve your odds. The main thing is interacting with the people you follow. I don’t automatically follow back people who follow me, but I usually follow back those who take the time to say hi or respond to my tweets. So that’s a great place to start!

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  10. says

    Great and helpful post as always, Annie! For some reason I was never a good user of hashtags. Maybe because seeing so many at once always felt spammy I was weary of using them and then never found a good way to do it. Sometimes people throw so much at the end of a tweet. Something like: “New post on query letter tips http://link.com #writers #writing #writetip #pubtip #agent.” It hurts my eyeballs. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels that way! May your tips make the rounds in our writing community!

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    • says

      Thanks Melissa! Yes, I tend to tune them out. If someone is just ridiculous about it I might unfollow for my own sanity and for the sake of my timeline’s readability. It gets hard to read the good stuff when they’re surrounded by so much noise!

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  11. says

    Great article, Annie! You hit all the most important points, and I liked the hashtag list for writers at the end. I always liked the agent wish list one (don’t know it’s exact name though). Thanks! :-)

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    • says

      Thanks Lexa! Yes, I love that one too. I believe the hashtag is #MSWL for “my secret wish list.”

      For anyone who got this far down to the comments and doesn’t know; that’s a hashtag that agents and editors use to describe the ideal projects they would love to see in their slush. :)

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  12. says

    Hey Annie,

    I run a micropoetry blog, so follow hashtags with great interest.

    #Micropoetry is a collective term for a variety of different forms of short poetry. As a poetic artform, it doesn’t really have any rules. Although it does consists of certain forms of short poetry with fixed rules such as haiku, tanka, senryu and gogyohka.

    Poets do sometimes label their work with hashtags to help. Ending poems with #haiku #poem #micropoetry etc. But as there are so many forms/styles of micropoetry, and with the limited twitter space, tags can vary wildly and sometimes poems are not tagged at all. This makes discovering poetry on twitter quite a task.

    I’ve created a list of the common hashtags used by twitter poets with descriptions and examples here…

    http://micropoetry.com/twitter-micropoetry

    I hope you find this useful

    regards

    Luke

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