by Erin Mitchell
Earlier this week I read an article about a report from a self-anointed group of Social Media Experts about hashtags on Twitter. I’m not giving you a link because I don’t like to share crappy content, but one of the points of their “report” was that on Twitter, using more hashtags is a super-duper means to get people to engage.
Yes, engagement, in all its many forms, is the point of social media. Whether it’s getting your readers to talk with you or share a review or click a link, we want others to interact with our Tweets. The thing is, #over #hashtagging #is #not #the #way #to #do #this.
First of all, understand that there are two kinds of hashtags:
Silly hashtags usually comprise a funny and relevant phrase. For example, I asked Twitter how many hashtags in one tweet is too many, and Rhian Davies, one of my favorite Tweeters said this:
And another great example from Chris C. Turner:
#idonotthinkthereisalimitbutthereprobablyisoneifyouthinkyouneedacomma @erinfaye: Curious: For you, how many hashtags in a tweet is too many?— Chris C. Turner (@XopherFL) June 28, 2012
So what I’m saying below is not about silly hashtags. They’re fine. If you’re clever enough to think up good ones, have at it.
Real hashtags, though, have a specific purpose, namely: To create a live link within a tweet to tweets about a particular topic from different people.
And what are hashtags not? They’re not a means to emphasize something. They’re not a tool to imply endorsement.
Because I’m a “read the manual” sort of gal, I checked what Twitter itself has to say about hashtags. Their help page is concise and well written, and covers all the important points, including a link to this page, which has interesting info, including some history on the use of hashtags.
One of the most common misunderstandings about hashtags is that without them, your tweet won’t show up in search results. This is not true. Case and point:
Not long after the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, I saw a reference to tweets from Real Red-Blooded Americans saying they were moving to Canada because they were so disgusted (yes, really). I did a search, and sure enough, there were the tweets, most of which has no hashtag at all. See, I just went to search.twitter.com, put “moving to Canada” in the search box, and presto!
So how do you know when to use a hashtag (or not)? Simple:
- Remember that a hashtag creates a live link. More than one link in a tweet can be annoying…more than two makes the tweet too messy to create any real engagement.
- Most of the time (see exception below), if you’re the only one using a hashtag, you’re not doing anything meaningful…you’re just making yourself look like a desperate seller-type. This means that hashtagging your book or character title is not a super idea.
- If your tweet includes a link to your book on Amazon, there’s no need, for the love of all that is holy, to include #kindle in said tweet (and in fact, I believe that this will drastically decrease the number of clicks on your Amazon link).
If you’d like to see an example of a hashtag done right, check out #IndieThursday. This hashtag was created by Jenn Lawrence with the goal of celebrating independent bookstores. And sure enough, each week, all kinds of different folks share what they’ve bought in indie stores.
Hashtags have also been used recently to create and tell stories through Twitter, which is a super way to generate compelling, interactive content 140 characters at a time. Author Eric Van Lustbader, for example, has been telling a Jason Bourne story via Twitter, which you can read at #Bourne3. And the good folks who organize Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (aka Harrogate) crowd-sourced a short story on Twitter, which was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
Now, if you follow crime fiction on Twitter, you know no post on hashtags would be complete without a nod to Jungle Red Writers. Do they use too many hashtags? Yeah, sure. Is it sometimes hard to find the link to their site amid the jungle of hashtags? Yep. But do we all forgive them their over-hashtagedness? Absolutely. Because they do it in good fun, and at this point, it’s kind of become part of their brand on Twitter. To wit:
And with that, I'll thank you for reading this likely-too-long post. If you’ve gotten this far, let me leave you with one thought: Use hashtags sparingly—keep it to one per tweet.