to hash tag or not to hash tag, and where and how

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The twitter hash tag is a widely used and controversial practice. Some disprove of it, some overuse it, and some may be committing hash-spam.

So what's the real deal with hash tags?

The what and why of hash tags

The twitter hash tag  (# sign used before a word or before an acronym) is a labeling convention used to draw attention to a set of tweets around specific topics, as indicated by the hash tag.

Just as tags can be added to a blog post or a Facebook picture, tags can be added to a tweet by using # in front of a keyword. But in the Twitter case this metadata is visible.

This visual disruption introduced by the hash tag led to criticism of the practice by some.

My opinion is that when used in a reasonable way, as opposed to a way that is reminiscent of spam, the hash tag can be very useful:

  • The hash tag can be used to create a chat room. There are sites such as TweetChat where you can enter a hash tag and follow and participate in a conversation related to that topic as if in a chat room. Great examples of weekly chats are #agchat, #journchat and #craftbeerchat.
  • I love the use of the hash tag to create a conversation between participants at an event or conference. Check out the #ces discussion going on right now on Twitter. 
  • Let's not forget the use of the hash tag to connect people with similar interests, and spread the word, similar to an RSS newsfeed – #cubs is all Cubs news and opinion. Another that I've used quite a bit recently as part of my JJsList co-tweeting has been #disability. 

The where and how

Is it better to embed the hash tag in the body of a tweet or at the end?

This is a balancing act. Tweets that are easy to read are more likely to get attention. But if the tweet is long there may not be room to add hash tags at the end.

My preferred option is to add the hash tag at the end of the tweet when the tweet can still be under 120 characters. Like this:

Who loves the Chicago Cubs? #Chi #cubs

If adding hash tags lengthens the tweet over 120 characters I prefer rewriting a tweet. Here is such a tweet:

Philanthropy News: Steven Seleznow to head Arizona Community Foundation – Phoenix Business Journal

In this case adding #philanthropy and #phoenix at the end of the tweet would stretch the tweet too far so the ideal way to tweet would be:

#Philanthropy News: Steven Seleznow to head Arizona Community Foundation – #Phoenix Business Journal

Do you agree, disagree? Please leave your comments :).

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Since founding Lightspan, Mana has quickly established herself as one of Chicago's leading voices in social media and digital marketing. A decisive problem-solver fluent in five languages, Mana believes in clear objectives, simple solutions and the power of purpose in marketing. Credos: "No excuses" and "Find a way!"
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