Metadata for the Tweeps: Twitter Hashtags

by | Feb 17, 2011

Do you use Twitter hashtags? Those funny, frequently unreadable letters with a “hash” (# or pound sign) in front? You should. Here’s why.

Hashtags are tags we add to our own content on Twitter. They:

  • become a form of metadata for tweets
  • self-identify the person tweeting as a member of the group of people who use that tag
  • are useful for search, for research, for meeting people with shared interests, and for gathering community

There are different kinds of hashtags:

  • Trending topics like #grammys
  • Breaking news like #jan25 for Cairo protests
  • Regular real-time Twitter chats like #writechat and #kidlitchat
  • Subject interests like #green for ecological subjects or #accounting

Twitter hashtags 3

In the same way that we assign categories to our book descriptions, which become part of the book’s metadata, and the way we assign categories to blog posts or articles, hashtags help find and organize data.

They are frequently used in combinations, which result in interesting long-tail keywords you can explore in real time, like this one I made up and then searched for and found: #accounting #jobs #memphis

Twitter hashtags 2

Here’s another tweet loaded with keywords as hashtags. Searches on any of these terms will retrieve this tweet, and a click on any of the hashtags will pull up all the recent posts with the same tag applied:

Twitter hashtags 4

Roll Your Own Metadata—Tips

Since you’ll be making up hashtags before long, here are some tips:

  • Don’t use spaces, they will break your hashtag
  • Hashtags are converted to links when published, and are clickable for an instant search
  • Most useful and long-lasting hashtags are short and informative like #ePrdctn for discussions about ebook creation

Twitter Hashtags 1

You can find hashtags that relate to subjects you’re studying, or in your niche various ways.

Use Hashtags for the Best of Twitter

Twitter is a unique environment that, more than any other social media utility, can be used in almost endless ways by anyone who wants to take advantage of the tools and the audience gathered there. During the last Super Bowl, Twitter users set a record sending over 4,000 tweets per second.

Understanding how to use this connection to the real time neural network can only help your platform-building efforts.

  • On Twitter you can meet peers and influencers in your niche more easily than in other environments
  • Rather than selling direct, use a “search and connect” strategy to find partners, service providers, cross-promoters and readers interested in your subject
  • Connect to other people’s networks by making contact on Twitter, then use your blog or website to promote your books or other programs. Use Twitter to drive traffic, use your blog to receive it.

Hashtags are one of the best tools to slice through the stream of tweets to find exactly what you want. They allow us to congregate and have communal discussions in the midst of a storm of traffic traveling in other directions. Use them and prosper.

Photo by emilydickinsonridesabmx

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Cathy Yardley

    Thanks for this! I’m still figuring out the Twitterverse… nice to have a guide marking the trail. :D

  2. Roemer McPhee

    Joel, another great post. I want to ask you, why don’t indies work more with list brokers? These guys are something else. I have heard of customized (and sometimes hardcopy) email (and mail) promo drops of 10 million names and addresses. Please tell us what you know about Direct Marketing, as it relates to self-publisher marketing.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Roemer, these are two different areas. Mass emailings of 10 million names are often done with suspect lists and can get you slapped pretty hard for sending unsolicited commercial email (otherwise known as spam). It’s generally a bad idea to mail solicitations to people who have not specifically opted to receive your mail. Also, most self-publishers are niche marketers, so a mailing of 10 million would be mostly irrelevant anyway.

      On the direct mail side, the problem is economic. Lists of names are available to rent and mail (junk mail) but unless you have a line of products or an item selling for a pretty high retail price, or you are selling a subscription (renewing payments), these kinds of mass mailings just don’t make sense. And they are expensive.

      The answer is highly targeted marketing, in either environment. And online, the key to hitting those targets is getting permission from people to sell to them. This involves establishing trust, having authority in your field, and being generous. These are much better ways to market for most self-publishers. Thanks for the question.

  3. George Angus

    Hey Joel,

    I love the hashtags. In addition to their extreme usefulness for searching, they are a wonderful accent to add to a tweet. Sometimes the hashtags crack me up more than the tweet does. In fact, I’ve grown so accustomed to using them, I sometimes use one on a facebook status post! Hehe. I’m sure non-Twitter types scratch their heads at my pound signs.


    • Joel Friedlander

      And I really get a kick out of all goofy tags I didn’t talk about in the article, George, they add a really personal touch. #donttumblethemoose

  4. Christopher Wills

    Just getting into Twitter and I thought the # was a replacement for the @. Your post is timely and as usual, excellent.

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    It’s strange that something as small and as simple as the “hashtag” has so many aliases.

    It’s also known as the “tick-tack-toe sign,” “cross-hash,” “cross-hatch,” “enter,” “hash,” “number sign,” “noughts and crosses,” “pound” and “pound-sign.”

    Unless you look closely, the hashtag (etc.) looks like a “sharp” symbol in music, but they tilt in opposite directions (the sharp goes to the left).

    On a telephone’s touchtone pad, the symbol’s official name is “octothorp” (or “octothorpe”) — a great bit of jargon that ranks up there with “fleuron,” “dingbat,” “kern,” “hickey,” “pilcrow” and “virgule” in printing.

    Michael N. Marcus

    (who does not tweet)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Joel Friedlander

      There’s also: “You’ve made a right good hash of that, my son,” and “How’s the hash today?” although hash as a food seems to be losing favor lately. You can also “hash it out” with someone, and I bet there are others I haven’t thought of. But “octothorpe” is definitely up for word of the day, thanks for that.

      • Chris O'Byrne

        I made hash for supper last night and it was amazingly simple and delicious. A baked potato cut and fried, roast beef, and diced jalapenos. :)

        • Joel Friedlander

          Hash is an under-appreciated bit of American culinary invention, and I’m glad to hear it still has its adherents.

          • Michael N. Marcus

            Libby’s corned beef hash is my lifelong favorite, and Broadcast an acceptable substitute.

            I like to cook it in a pan until it it is crisp, then move it to the side of the pan, and break an egg or two into the other side, and scramble it “soft,” and then mush the egg and hash together. YUMMMMMMMM!

            Hash book or hash blog, anyone?

            BTW, do any women eat hash; or is it a guy thing, like the Three Stooges?

          • Chris O'Byrne

            Michael, my wife and my daughters all love hash. Dang, now I’m hungry!

          • Michael N. Marcus

            To Chris O’B:

            But, how do the ladies feel about the Stooges?

          • Chris O'Byrne

            I just asked her and she said yes, she loves the Three Stooges. What a woman!

    • Gaz

      # known as the “pound” and “pound sign” i think you mean £



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