Twitter Hashtags: A Waste or Time or a Functional Tool?

by on February 6, 2012

in bruce's thoughts

Do you think that using Twitter hashtags helps your tweets be found, or do you think that they are becoming a waste of time and effort?  I’m leaning towards the latter as I’m noticing things like the term #nascar is no longer needed, as NASCAR itself will do just fine when it comes to trending topics. (As one example.)

Twitter LogoDuring the Super Bowl I was trying to figure out the best hashtag to use and found out just how ill-defined the use of Twitter hashtags are.  No one controls them so there’s no centralized focus.  Then I started wondering just how useful are hashtags if there’s as many different hashtag as there are Twitter users for the same subject?

Twitter hashtags are how people mark their tweets sent out on Twitter.  It’s a sort of keyword system that seems to stem from a blogger’s mentality to earmark what a tweet is about.

Initially, hashtags were used as a search function aid.  But they’re slowly losing any real meaning, for the most part.  For example, if I write that my “car exploded when starting it,” and append my tweet with a #fail, seems, well, like stating the obvious.

Sure, the tags can be useful.  When a TV show puts their hashtag up on the screen when the show is on, at least that solidifies all the users use of a common tag.  Or when a business might suggest their name as a hashtag, so be it.

But when left to their own devices, hashtag usefulness is wasted on the medium because so many make them up as they go along.  Or so it would seem.

Examples of Wasted Hashtags

During the Super Bowl I caught an interesting set of patterns.  Locally in the Bay Area, there were no Super Bowl related trends.  Nationally, the Super Bowl related trends were action or person-specific.  Meaning, the term Super Bowl never showed up on Twitters trending screen.  Instead, terms like “Touch Down,” “4th down,” “Madonna,” “Manning,” “halftime” and what not were the actual trending subjects.  (Take note, that I did not put the ‘#’ in front of those trends.)

Twitter Hashtag Symbols

I myself was tweeting about the over-hyped Super Bowl TV ads and I was trying to figure out the best hashtag to use.  I saw #superbowlads, #superbowlcommercials, #superbowltvads and a slew of other kinds of hashes being used by my fellow twits.

But like I pointed out earlier, locally, there was nothing and nationally, the trends were event or name specific.  It wasn’t until you looked at Worldwide trends that a Twitter user could have deduced that THE hashtag to use to highlight their 140 character opinion on the $7 million a minute TV ads was #SBAds.  Yep… that was the trending tag, worldwide, and it seemed that the world was more interested than here locally, or on the national level.

But did you know…

You Don’t Need Hashtags in Twitter!

I’m not sure if you’ve been following along or not, but Twitter has evolved a bit.  So much so that they’ve been able to trend away from using hashtag terms as actualy trending subjects.

I was tracking the trends on Twitter on three different levels during the last half of the Super Bowl and in all cases, amongst the top trending patterns, only 2 out of any 10 trends had a hashtag in front of it.

Check out what’s trending right now, while I’m writing this:

Here in the Bay Area:

#JohnCarter (Promoted)
#HowToSurviveAHorrorMovie
Clint Eastwood
Bob Marley
Super Bowl
MPH
The U
Madonna’s
Stoudemire
Tom Coughlin

In the United States:

#JohnCarter (Promoted)
#10paulydphrases
#HowToSurviveAHorrorMovie
Happy Birthday Bob Marley
Clint Eastwood
Super Bowl
Madonna’s
Stoudemire
Giselle
MPH

And Worldwide:

#JohnCarter (Promoted)
#10paulydphrases
#OneThing
Happy Birthday Bob Marley
Proud of Cher Lloyd
My Baby’s Nearly 18
Paul Dacre
Alberto Contador
Robert Nesta Marley
Axl Rose

=

As you can see, the trend with hashtags is #fading as Twitter evolves.

I don’t think hashtags will ever go away.  Business entities like movies (see the promoted trend) and TV shows seem to be suggesting hashtags during their broadcasts like when you see #NCIS and what not.  But now-a-days, basic proper English is starting to be used instead of the enforced, one-word looking phrases.

But if you must stick with the old processes, there are sites like http://hashtags.org/ that can help centralize terms.  Which would actually make them more useful.

Psst:  The first message using a hashtag came from Chriss Messina:

“how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”

So when you start spouting a Twit for Twitter, or tweet to be more accurate, you may not need to try to come up with hashtags.  But then again… good luck not using them!  Despite my understanding that the ‘#’ is fading, I still join in with a tagged or two tweet.

And we’re not alone… 11% of tweets have hashtags.  But dang people, when you use 50 different tags for the same subject, you’re defeating the purpose of this tool.

Even the inventor of the hashtags has recognized they’re being overused and dilluted and is now suggesting slashtags…  but one man amongst 50 million tweets a day is getting lost in the #noise.  As it would /seem.

[ gigaom.com: The History of Twitter Hashtags ]



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