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#HowNotToHashtag: Avoiding the Perils of Hashtag Misuse

Birds on a wire by TarikB

Image by TarikB

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that hashtags are taking over the world. The little symbol that has become popular due to its function on Twitter has now spread to all corners of the internet and is now beginning to appear in text messages and in everyday conversation.

It’s even gone as far to have been named the word of the year by the American Dialect Society. Now as much as we love the hashtag on twitter (and yes we’re guilty of having dropped it into conversation for comic value) we’re starting to wonder if it’s just being taken too far…

Facebook and Instagram

The hashtag is predominantly Twitter’s baby, where it acts as a way for us to categorise our tweets and easily search a particular topic. However, it’s not only within the Twittersphere that the hashtag rules; photo-sharing application Instagram adopted the hashtag function allowing its users to find images more easily, and recently social media giant Facebook followed, spurring a mixture of excitement and resentment. Of course, from a blogging perspective these additions are great as it’s becoming even easier for your blog to be discovered if you have a presence on these social media sites. #hooray!

The Seven Deadly types of hashtag abusers

Even if you think you have mastered the art of hashtagging, chances are one of your hashtag habits will be irritating someone out there. Truth is, there’s no right way to hashtag and everyone has a different opinion about its use. The New York Magazine recently published seven types of hashtag categories that everyone falls into, from people who cram as many hashtags as possible into a single tweet, to those who hashtag a whole sentence #thatisveryannoyingdon’tyouthink. Take a look and let us know, are you a Hash-swagger, or a Hashtag Stuffer?

Don’t get me wrong…

…hashtags are invaluable to bloggers. When promoting your latest post, a few simple ‘tags can draw in readers who are searching for posts on that specific theme. Maybe you’ll even gain a few readers for life, find #blogmeets and take part in blogger chats like #fblchat. The ‘trending’ tool is also an excellent way of discovering what’s going on in the world and what everyone is talking about.

Hashtag horrors

As much as hashtag technique is down to individual preference, there are certain habits we really ought to stamp out whilst we still can. Hashtags should consist of single words or short phrases, as long sentences are a pain to distinguish and will most likely result in the reader giving up or getting frustrated.

Don’t use too many hashtags in your tweets, it’s messy and comes across as lazy. If there are more hashtagged words than normal words, you know there’s a problem. Twitter itself suggests that two per tweet is the most effective balance to have, so keep this in mind. One fact we all tend to forget is that punctuation and numbers will break up a hashtag and ruin the effect. For example #use2hashtags will only link #use, which is obviously not relevant or helpful.

#epicfail

Although many hashtag campaigns have been extremely successful in the past, there have also been many that have backfired for major brands. Let’s not forget the #McDStories tag set up by McDonalds last year, which initiated a (Mc)flurry of horror stories about people’s bad experiences with the fast food chain.

The brand pulled the ill-advised idea after just two hours but tweets mocking the contents of their Happy Meals and hygiene in their restaurants continued for days afterwards. It is all too easy for hashtags to be misinterpreted. For example, following Margaret Thatcher’s death, the trending #nowthatchersdead had thousands of Cher fans mourning for hours before they realised their mistake.

The hashtag function is definitely something we can put to good use when employed effectively. Just be careful not to fall into any of the traps we’ve pointed out and your hashtags will soon bring in the readers. Though, as Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon point out, it’s probably best to avoid using hashtags in every day conversation!

 

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