Ok, so hashtags aren’t the most innovative of topics I could write about, but for a lot of newbies they can be confusing. What are they?  Can I create one myself?  Is there best practice twittiquette?  #Can #I #use #them #all #the #time?!

Essentially, they categorise tweets and are used to mark key words or topics.  I think Marc Custers sums them up perfectly: they enable you to get a lot of information from a lot of like-minded people:

“Personally I’ve always considered hashtags as a shortcut to similar information. Hashtags are for me a kind of twitter library shelf :-)”


A little known fact is that Chris Messina is regarded as having invented hashtags on Twitter, and now also on Google+, although they are not yet used on Facebook.  Twitter disputes their origins here:

Trending Topics, 17th Oct 2012

Whatever their origins, anyone can use, create or search for a hashtag, while popular ones will often become Trending Topics.  Following @hashtags will help you keep on top of what’s trending and why.

The current US Presidential election is a topical example: #Romney has been trending alongside #Obama following the recent live televised debate which inevitably saw people flock to Twitter to give their opinion on how the latest face-off went.


Hashtags are a great way of knowledge-sharing and enhancing engagement between individuals who previously didn’t know about each other.   They can build mini-communities and introduce people to relevant tweeps they wouldn’t ordinarily come across.

Events and exhibitions are an excellent demonstration of this.  Organisers use them to keep attendees up-to-date on what the buzz from the show floor is, while it is also invaluable for those who could not attend but want to keep up with the show’s news.

But they can vary from political to business, from sports to random topics.  Don’t think it is just for business use.  Keen swimmers should keep an eye on #swimming, and breaking news stories are often accompanied by a relevant hashtag too.

Although often over-used and spoiled by too-eager hashtaggers (I’m guilty of using 4 or 5 in a single tweet sometimes), brands are finally recognizing their power.

Mercedes-Benz UK recently launched a fantastic TV campaign in which it gave the viewers the opportunity to influence how the ad story developed over time.  Simply by using #youdrive in a tweet, you can vote for whether the get-away driver took a left or right turn and so on.  It is a simple but brilliant harnessing of multiple communications channels to: accelerate engagement with their target audience (and those beyond), promote their new A-Class launch, generate excitement, boost brand and product awareness, and drive traffic to their YouTube interactive “story”.


Best practice advice varies, but a good rule of thumb is to use them sparingly.  There is nothing more off-putting than a tweet that incorporates several hashtags – two or three maximum per tweet is ample, and certainly not in every tweet you send.  And definitely not for all your sub-headings…ahem.

And use them socially or for a bit of fun – we’re all human!  During a twitter conversation about the weekend with a friend, feel free to drop in a hashtag that encaptures what you did…if you went on a spending spree then #shoppedtilidropped says it all!


There are a plethora or resources and definitions out there, but I find that www.hashtag.org is one of the best.  Explore the twittersphere – see what grabs your attention and what is relevant for you.  You never know, you may make a valuable contact through a hashtag.

Like them or loathe them, I hope this post was useful for you – please do leave a comment on your thoughts and share across your own networks.  I would love to hear your feedback!

About Dan Purvis

PR, comms, digital / social media specialist and advisor.

While consistently balancing the need for sustainable, impactful campaigns that incorporate PR, social/digital media and external communications in the mix, I ensure that game-changing strategies are aligned to commercial goals and objectives. Passionate about social media, the value of digital properties and PR, I have a proven track record of successfully leading various PR-specific and multi-discipline marketing campaigns. Internal comms, crisis comms and stakeholder liaison is also a core strength of mine.


  1. Great info here Dan – nice that we can write a “history” on any aspect of social media these days!. Feels like it’s growing up! We use #hashtags for live blogging around an event as well – really useful way of bringing the event to those who are really interested! And of course where we would be without hashtags for popular TV programmes? Great way to find like-minded souls & the #GBBO has been very popular recently for instance (Great British Bake Off – BBC2). More here if anyone would like to pop by 🙂 http://www.saucyhorsesocialmedia.co.uk/2011/12/are-you-attending-a-great-event-liveblog-it/

    • Thanks Tracy – glad you like it! Yes, the industry is definitely maturing but there are still big knowledge gaps that we have to plug…some obvious ones like hashtags and other more strategic ones such as ROI, measurement and demonstrating value for digital marketing campaigns.

      Great examples re: TV programmes and live event blogging…will read you post properly later but it uses a great example to help explain the mini-history!

      Appreciate your comment 🙂

  2. What a brilliant article, Dan! I’m trying to educate friends & family, who are new to twitter. Naturally, the topic of #hashtags and @replies are the main source of confusion. This article has helped immensely, thanks!

  3. Great info. Funny to think how hashtags have become part of the way we communicate courtesy of Twitter.
    I’ll typically use a hashtag to join an industry conversation and direct my Twitter update to that ongoing industry chat. Or, like your example, I’ll throw in hashtag to sum things up like #funtimes.
    The Mercedes example is really clever too.

    • Appreciate it Chris. Isn’t it just?! But such a good way of curating relevant content and discussions, and then joining in a conversation or simply reading and learning from what other people are saying within that hashtag’s topic.
      I had to draw the line though when I caught myself using (more than once) hashtags when actually speaking with people… 😀
      I’d love to see what metrics the #youdrive campaign has produced – it’s looks highly popular and successful, but would ideally like to speak with the Mercedes guys about their ROI and measures…just hearing how they’re measuring the success of it would be good, but finding out how they plan to leverage the additional engagement and newly extended audience beyond this campaign would be the icing on the cake. I really hope they don’t just have a one-hit-wonder and fail to capitalise on this momentum. #timewilltell 😉

  4. Great article Dan! Thank you for the mention 🙂
    I agree: Hashtags are not only handy for curating related info (a lot like tags & categories on a blog).
    They are even more useful for connecting/engagement (instant ‘communities’ based on events, chats, common interests…).
    We even use it to summarize our day : #IHadAGreatDay #DinnerWithFamily 🙂
    Amazing how a simple idea can have such an impact!

    • Thank you Marc – appreciate the comment…when I started writing this post I remembered the library analogy of yours and it works so well!
      Indeed – they’re almost like virtual roundtables.
      Have a good week!

  5. I knew all that except the haashtg thing. I thought a haashtg was something assigned to people or something that had to be set up. Didn’t know it was a search term that will be helpful next time I tweet!Rena (An Ordinary Housewife) recently posted..


  1. […] as a perfect follow on from my introductory Hashtag-tastic post, you should read Lilach Bullock’s #hashtastic overview.  Lilach, a Forbes social media […]

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