What is a Twitter Hashtag?

When you visit Twitter, you'll see a wealth of hashtags. People will write a post and add on words like #lowcarb or #lotr or #gameofthrones. What are these twitter hashtags all about, and why do people use them?

First, let's recap the basics of Twitter. Twitter only allows short messages. So let's say I run a low carb Twitter feed. I decide to post about the cool new tuna tartare recipe I just made. So I post, to my LisaLowCarb twitter feet, a message something like:

Delicious tuna tartare recipe, perfect for low carb dieters, here's the recipe: http://xxxxxxxxxxxx

So far so good. So the people who specifically follow me will see that post.

But that's only a tiny portion of how Twitter works.

Yes, my followers will see my message because they're choosing to follow me. But the way a vast majority of the world uses Twitter is to scan the entire Twitter universe on a real-time basis for key words they care about. They set up a search term that they're interested in and every single post relating to that term automatically pops up when the post is made.

So here's the challenge with having this search polling the entire twitter universe, live, every minute.

Let's say I was interested in hearing all about low carb news and information. But let's say I typed in, as my search term, "low carb". It would come back with any post that used the words "low" and "carb" in it. So I would see results about

My Mustang GT had this low carb tuning set up which sucked, so I set the spark plugs for a higher value.

The lights were low carb bacon dinner was on the table and my girlfriend put on the soft music.

At least those are the words in order but I'd also get

I love the song low and I also adore carb rich foods

I would get any random result that used those words whether the post was really about the topic or not.

Here's an example. Some posts are about people randomly saying they won't do low carb.

What is a Twitter Hashtag?

That's why people use hash tags. They only use a hash tag in a post if that post is REALLY about that topic. That then means, if I set up my search criteria to find posts with that hash tag, I know I'm only getting posts about the topic I care about.

So if there are posts along the lines of:

New research shows that fat cells do in fact divide if they get big enough. Beware! #lowcarb

Delicious new low carb recipe for chicken satay takes only minutes to prepare #lowcarb

If you're a fan of the south beach diet, you have to read this new ebook, only 99 cents #lowcarb

All of those posts would show up in my search results when I went searching for #lowcarb. All would be directly related to the #lowcarb topic.

Again, here's an example. Posts with the #lowcarb hash tag are explicitly about low carb diets.

What is a Twitter Hashtag?

So if you're making posts, it's key to add a hash tag at the end of your post to show what that post is about. That way when people in the world get their search results on that topic, you will be included. That is how they learn about your post and think about following you.

If you are setting up a search for a topic you care about, you want to use a hashtag. That way you only get results including posts that are of interest to you, and you don't have to wade through thousands of unrelated posts.

It's easy to see this in action. Go to Twitter and try searching for a random term like "low carb". Look at what you get. Then try searching for its more specific hashtag like #lowcarb. See how the results are more on target, and are all about that topic?

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What is a Twitter Hashtag?


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