Hashtags are organic, helpful, informative and sometimes fun to use.  When used strategically they are a great way to collaboratively share information, build a movement, promote a brand or cause and communicate with a specific audience.  I like the definition Socialbrite shares in their glossary, “A hashtag is a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets.”

The # symbol is what marks or makes a hashtag out of the alpha or numeric text that follows the number symbol.   Take note – special characters and punctuation marks like “!, $, %, ^, &, *, +, .” do not work.  Twitter then turns hashtags into clickable links. Here are a few examples and explanations.

#NTEN is a hashtag The Nonprofit Technology Network uses when tweeting about their blog, events or speaking to their community#12ntc is the hashtag NTEN recently used for their conference to help attendees follow the event, share conference content and connect with one another virtually. Whereas #nptech is a search term that evolved organically and is used to tag topics related to nonprofit technology.

How do I use hashtags?  You can use a hashtag anywhere in your 140 character tweet.  Try and use terms relevant to the message, meme, topic of discussion or the content you are sharing.  You can use any hashtag you want. To see what tags are popular in the nonprofit space, visit this list of hashtags for social change.   I also found a helpful list of government related hashtags here.  Sometimes all you need is to quickly translate  a particular hashtag, I like using tagdef.com for this purpose.

Lastly, go easy on the hashtag use, too many tags makes your tweet hard to read and spammy. #Some #people #over #use #hash #tags.

How do I follow or track a hashtag? You can easily find hashtags in search.twitter.com or you can use social management platforms like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to search, save and monitor hashtags.   There are also sites built solely for monitoring Twitter hashtags such as Monitter  or Tweetchat.

How do I create a hashtag?  Here are seven guidelines for creating a new hashtag.

  1. Keep it short and sweet, so it’s easy to tweet.   My recommendation, fewer than 6 characters.
  2. Be original and create something new.  As you brainstorm hashtags for your cause, event, brand, etc. perform a quick search in Twitter to see if the hashtag is already in use.
  3. Use good twitiquette when creating your hashtag, avoid using another organization’s url or commonly used hashtag.
  4. Develop an unlikely abbreviation, try and make it a memorable mnemonic for example could be #4ex.
  5. Do not use special characters – they do not work.
  6. Test your hashtag.  Is it easy to type on a keyboard or mobile device?  Is Twitter creating a clickable link with your tag?
  7. Look up the term in Urban Dictionary to avoid using slang with an entirely different meaning.

Here are some helpful articles:

Ok, so why this post now? At NTC 2012 I thought it would be fun to Pay It Forward to NTEN by asking attendees to tweet #$PIF . For each tweet using the hashtag, Sage would donate a $1.00 to NTEN. Prior to the event, I applied most of the criteria above for creating a hashtag, focusing on making the tag unique and short. My result was an NTEN #fail. Special characters do not work. And, well, there is an entirely different meaning for PIF other than pay it forward. Don’t worry, Hootsuite enabled me to track all mentions of #$PIF (there were 146) and NTEN will get their donation and then some just for good measure.

Do you have a lesson learned or tip to add about hashtags?  Comment below.

Patricia Tynan
Social Media & Community Manager
Sage Nonprofit