twitter for journalists

Hash tags

A "hash tag" is a word embedded in a tweet that starts with a "#" sign, as in this example:

Hashtag1

Virtually all Twitter clients make hash tags clickable automatically. When clicked, an instant search is performed for all tweets that include the same hash tag (not just your followees, but all tweets). In other words, a hash tag is an identifier for a real-time Twitter search that groups tweets according to a certain topic. Hash tags are often agreed upon by a community of people interested in a given topic, providing way for their tweets to hang together.

Couldn't you simply search Twitter for whatever interests you? Yes, but hash tags have distinct advantages:

  • They ensure that tweets are grouped even if a given tweet doesn't contain the keyword
  • They provide a way for readers to discover a larger circle of interest they may not have otherwise searched for

Because a hash tag is essentially a search, it can be saved for quick access just like any other saved search on Twitter. Saved searches and hash tags are very important tools for journalists who cover a community or particular beat regularly.

Hash tags are useful in lots of circumstances, but they really shine at conferences and events, where hundreds or thousands of people who don't know each other are suddenly able to find one another's observations and discussions. For example, in KDMC workshops we advise students to use the hash tag #kdmcworkshop. That stream then becomes an instant "back-channel" tracking their notes and key take-aways from our lectures and discussions.

Hash Wpfd
Click a hash tag to view tweets grouped on a given topic. Hash tag results are global, not limited to posts by your followees. Shown: The hash tag for World Press Freedom Day.

Journalists covering public events should make discovering that event's hash tag a priority - it's a fantastic way to keep a pulse on the thoughts of the public, giving a very different perspective than what one reporter alone could assemble.

Try not to overuse hash tags - more than two hash tags in a tweet can make it quickly start to look like alphabet soup, and will severely cut into the amount of characters available for real content.

Creating Hash Tags

So what if you arrive at an event (say, a city-wide art festival) and aren't able to discover a hash tag in use? You're the journalist - take the lead and create one! You don't need to do anything special to start using a hash tag - just start including it in posts, and watch to see how quickly it catches on.

When creating a hash tag, you need to find the right balance between brevity and specificity. You don't want your hash tags to be too general. For example, if you use the hash tag #art at a community festival, you'll find that clicking on it leads to thousands of tweets on art in general, not just your local festival. Even #artinthepark would be too general. However, for the city of Albany, the hash tag #albanyart might be just right. #albanyartfestival would work as well, but would be too long. Just remember, your goal is to be specific enough to limit results to your event, and short enough to not cut into tweet length too much. If in doubt, search Twitter for that tag before using the tag!

Too general:

  • #art
  • #artinthepark

Just right:

  • #albanyart