|#WombatWednesday screenshot (from Instagram)
This post about hashtags is dedicated to the recent participants of the various social media workshops that I've run! They've asked great questions and been very interested in knowing more about what hashtags are all about.
I wrote about hashtags back in 2013 (omg - 2013!) on The Research Whisperer - Hashing it over - and, on re-reading that, I realised how quickly posts about social media can get stale. The post is still valuable but I thought another one was in order, one that was a bit more of the moment in 2020.
What IS a hashtag?
At the most basic level, a hashtag is a word, phrase, or acronym precede by '#' (the hash sign - North Americans tend to call this the 'pound' sign but I find that confusing because the pound sign to me signals British pounds: £). Karin Olafson from Hootsuite says:
Think of hashtags as a way to connect social media content to a specific topic, event, theme or conversation. They also make it easier to discover posts around those specific topics, because hashtags aggregate all social media content with that same hashtag. (How to use hashtags)
For the most part, hashtags live most dynamically on Twitter and Instagram; LinkedIn can be useful on the hashtag front but I find that fewer people use them well there. Hashtags are on Facebook but, in my experience, they have never really taken off there and don't give the best results.
Why would you use hashtags?
Hashtags are ideal to bring communities together in the wilds of social media. The proliferation of accounts and things to follow across the platforms can be very confusing, especially if you're starting off. Hashtags are one way to raise the value and coherence of the online spaces for you as you build a community around your work and yourself.
For researchers, hashtags work really well for keywords in our fields so that you can search for information and accounts that appeal to you.
TOPICS of interest: The crucial thing here is to make sure that you're using the version of the word or phrase that's most used by the conversations you find most interesting and valuable. This can take time as you get to know the communities that are there, and find the active users who are most useful for you. In addition, there can be several layers of community that you're dealing with.
Let me walk you through some hashtag layers using the broad area of ecology/wildlife:
- #AustralianWildlife or #WildOz are broad interest areas that many people in the general community use to share their images of Australian critters. These tags are often used by researchers and conservation/environmental workers.
- Researchers often also use a narrower hashtag, one that may indicate a type of animal, or a locality (e.g. #marsupials or #CapeYork or #alpine or #BirdsOfPrey or #endangeredspecies)
- They may well throw in even more narrow, filtering language to flag particular animals or aspects that they are interested in (e.g. #sugargliders or #shingleback or #bushfires)