Twitter: What’s a hashtag?

by Julie on May 20, 2009



Hashtagging on Twitter is the use of the pound sign ‘#‘ in front of a word or a group of words (without spaces) within a tweet.

For example:

  • #idol is the hashtag for American Idol, e.g. ‘I love Adam Lambert! #idol’
  • #TED is the hashtag for TED talks, e.g. ‘I’m listening to Al Gore talk about the latest climate trends at #TED’
  • #swineflu is the hashtag for swine flu, e.g. ‘This #swineflu thing is freaking me out!’


Hashtags are used so that people can follow topics on Twitter. It does seem like you could just search for ‘idol’ but then, instead of getting all of the tweets that are purposefully categorized under ‘#idol’ by their authors and specifically about American Idol, you would find tweets in your search stream such as, “Billy Ray Cyrus is my idol!” – and who wants that?

These hashtags are particularly useful for conferences like South by Southwest (#sxsw) so that people both attending and wishing they were attending can share links, tidbits, video, blog posts, etc.

During the election, the stream for #election talk got so heavy that Twitter created a site that lived as a 24/7 live stream of all election tweets.

Besides trending topics (hot subjects that everyone is talking about), hashtags are used to follow conversations like:

  • #FollowFriday – where people recommend other people to their followers
  • #gno – girls night out, where women get together on Twitter; there’s usually a theme and often giveaways
  • #editorchat where editors talk about specific issues, share resources and network

In your Twitter sidebar, there is a search box where you can type in keywords or hashtags to follow conversations, information and posts. And if you see a hashtag you don’t ‘get’, just ask someone using it…I’m sure they’ll be happy to clue you in.

FYI, some hashtags are fairly useless, like #lunch with people reporting what they’re eating…for lunch.

Also, sometimes people, like me, use hashtags just for fun and as a tool for sarcasticating or categorizing. These are singular uses and look something like this: “Wondering why there are so many pictures on Flickr that show the contents of a woman’s purse #thingsidontneedtoknow”. Occasionally they start a mini-trend, but mostly they just #amuse.

Image courtesy of Scobleizer

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Lawler May 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

Finally someone explained that # damn thing. Thank You. This series is so good I am recommending it to all the members of

2 julie May 20, 2009 at 11:45 am

Thank you, Mary! Everyone is new at some point or the other – our goal is to make that newness and the unknowing that comes with it a little bit easier…

Leave a Comment