Twitter hashtags: Finding your community within a community

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Using the # symbol can help media relations pros filter conversations on Twitter

At least two or three times a week, someone asks me to show them how to use Twitter. In about 20 minutes, I can usually show someone (depending on their Internet savvy) the basics of interacting on Twitter, the difference between DMs (direct messages) and @Replies (now Mentions), a few great people to follow, Twitter Search and more before sending them out into the world of 140-character-or-less interaction.

Inevitably, however, almost all of them return to me in a week and ask, “So what’s the story with hashtags?”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with hashtags, here’s a quick guide:

Hashtags are used on Twitter to create groupings around a particular topic, event, community, industry, location, etc. By using a hashtag, tweeters can follow an entire conversation chain uninterrupted by other tweets. So, if you are interested in finding out what people are saying about newspapers, you can go to Twitter Search and type in “#newspaper” and see all the tweets that people sent with that hashtag and news about the newspaper industry. If you wanted that same audience to see what you had to say about newspapers, you would write your tweet and then include the hashtag. For example: “Just heard the Seattle Post-Intelligencer folder #newspaper”.

You can create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag. It’s sort of like tagging a blog post or Flickr photo.  You can use Twitter Search to search for a hashtag, but there are other programs as well like TweetGrid that work well for following hashtags, too.

For example, take #journchat. #journchat is a weekly conversation started by Sarah Evans between journalists, bloggers and PR professionals. From 7-10pm CT every Monday, members participate in a conversation (led by a moderator who poses questions to the group) and read responses via the #journchat hashtag. Here’s a sample from a recent #journchat recap:

PR and Journ advice, tools and pointers

  • JGoldsborough@journchat Journalists AND PR need 2 know how 2 tell story, use available SM tools — video, blogs, podcasts, tweets, FBook, etc. #journchat
  • tmonhollon@journchat As a reader, I’m getting a bit burnt out on the recession. Please make it fresh and relevant if you have to cover it! #journchatOpinions
  • savvypublicist@journchat Make sure that expert has credibility you can prove, know what kinds of experts journo is interested. #journchat
  • JeffCutler@journchat how in the world can you have a category called journalist & PR? They are-IMO and in practice-mutually exclusive.
  • Stuartcfoster@journchat Just constantly find new sources, new people, and new ways to look at things. SM only aids this process. #journchat
  • sonecessary@journchat @bobbiec: As a journalist, I prefer PR types to pitch me directly. I’ll use distro sites as a last resort. #journchat
  • collazoprojects@journchat Re. ?6: Just pitch us directly–tell us about your product/service; offer to let us try it out; make sure pub/writer matches prod
  • writeontime@journchat Call us. Go to lunch together. Build a relationship. It may not lead to a story immediately, but as news happens, it will pay …
  • sonecessary@journchat @morganb: Same way good PR types do the job: Build personal relationships w/media. Why ppl pay for PR: THE CONTACTS. #journchat

Often a hashtag is created for industry conferences, like #sxsw for South by Southwest last month. Yesterday, on April Fools’ Day, people used the hashtag #AFD when tweeting about a prank or joke.

Anyone can create a hashtag, but it is best practice to do some searching first to make sure there’s not already a hashtag out there for your community.

Many people new to Twitter find the random streams of conversation unusable or overwhelming. Hashtags are a great way to filter those conversations. Here are some common hashtags for media relations professionals. Feel free to share any others that I missed in the comments below.

For even more info on hashtags, I recommend visiting the Twitter Fan Wiki/Hashtags page or following hashtags on Twitter.

About Heidi Sullivan

One of PRWeek’s 40 under 40 in 2012, Heidi Sullivan is Senior Vice President of Digital Content for Cision and a self-proclaimed social media metrics nerd. She leads the company’s digital and broadcast content teams, the global research team for Cision’s media database, Cision’s social media community team and the company’s content marketing strategy. You can find her on Twitter @hksully.

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