After writing my Teacher Challenge guest post on using Twitter to build your PLN, I was asked by a number of people about hashtags.
I know when I first started using Twitter, it took me a little while to get my head around what the # symbol meant. This is a handy feature of Twitter that is worth learning about.
What is a hashtag?
The # symbol + a word/acronym in a tweet is called a hashtag. It is used to categorise a tweet into a topic or keyword. Hashtags are not created by Twitter but by Twitter users.
Why use hashtags?
There are so many tweets flying around at any one time that they can get lost in the crowd.
If you click on a hashtagged word in any tweet, you can find a list of other tweets with that hashtag. Whether or not you’re friends with someone, you can find their hashtagged tweet (as long as their profile is public). If you add a hashtag to a tweet, your tweet can potentially reach a larger audience.
Hashtags can help you connect with people who have similar interests. For example, you might be doing the Daily 5 literacy program in your classroom but you might not know any other people on Twitter who are also using that program. You could go to the Twitter website and put #daily5 into the search box to find a list of tweets from people tweeting about this subject.
If you use a desktop application like TweetDeck, you can add a column with all the tweets on #daily5 so you don’t miss anything.
In TweetDeck just click on the + sign at the top of your screen and then put #daily5 (or your favourite hashtag) into the search box. Alternatively, you can click on a hashtag in any tweet in TweetDeck and a column with all the tweets with that hashtag will be added.
Most Twitter guides suggest one, two or three hashtags is a good amount to use. Any more than three hashtags can take away from the content of your tweet.
Where do you put hashtags?
Hashtags can replace a word in a tweet or be tacked on to the end of a tweet. Sometimes people put a hashtag at the start of their tweet to preface their message with the subject.
Who makes up hashtags?
Hashtags are community driven. You can create any hashtag you like as long as members of your community or professional learning network (PLN) know about it and agree to use that hashtag.
To avoid using a hashtag that is already being used, it is advisable to search for that hashtag first. Things can get confusing if your hashtag is being used by another group! http://hashtags.org/ is a useful website to find out about hashtags being used.
The lighter side of hashtags
More and more people seem to use one-off random hashtags to add a humourous element to their tweet. You definitely don’t want to overdo this but they can add a little fun to your interactions with others.
Most conferences these days have a hashtag. This will generally be advertised prior to the event and allows people to connect their tweets about the conference before, during and after the event.
A hashtag can be used for a conference backchannel. Backchannelling allows conference participants to engage in an online discussion about what they are seeing, hearing and learning. It allows passive audience members to become active. Sometimes, people who can’t make a conference will also get involved in a backchannel by following the hashtag.
If you’re on Twitter you might have seen many tweets flying around with the #ISTE11 hashtag recently. This hashtag allowed participants at the ISTE conference in Philadelphia to connect while also giving a running commentary to non-participants.
Usually, conversations on Twitter are interspersed with gaps of time while people come online and offline. Some people plan times when everyone is online to engage in a live chat about a certain topic. These are often called “tweet chats” and are defined with a hashtag.
One of the most well known tweet chats in the ed tech world is #edchat. Each week there is a different topic and up to 2000 people from around the world get together and have a focussed conversation.
You can use a client like TweetChat to converse in real time or you can simply add a column with the hashtag search to TweetDeck or whatever Twitter application you prefer.
Anyone can organise their own live tweet chat. Just come up with a hashtag, a time and a topic, and get your PLN on board!
If you want to keep an archive of hashtagged conversations from a conference or tweet chats, there are some websites that make it easy to do this. Try Keepstream or Twapper Keeper.
You may be aware that Twitter is often the first place to break news as it happens. Twitter has an algorithm to work out which topics or hashtags are the hottest topics or trends right now.
If you go to the Twitter homepage, you can see a list of trending topics or trends. There might be hashtags there that you want to follow! These aren’t all hashtags but if you click on any of the trends, it will take you to search results of tweets about the topic.
These trends can change by the minute.
Some education hashtags to try
Now you know all about hashtags, why not try adding some to your tweets?
#vicpln – for teachers in Victoria, Australia
#Ultranet – discussion about the online portal for teachers in Victoria, Australia
#edtech – anyone interested in educational technology
#comments4kids – a way for students and teachers to find blogs to comment on and to get their own posts commented on (find more here).
#elearning – anyone interested in elearning
#elemchat – this is a live chat for elementary (primary) teachers but is also used for general discussions (find out more here).
#RSCON3 – this is the hashtag for the upcoming online PD that I discussed in this post.
Find more popular education hashtags here.
What hashtags do you use?
Do you have any other tips about using hashtags?