Twitter 101: What's the deal with hashtags (and why should I care?)

All week, I've been sharing the answers I've been giving to questions I've been getting on how to effectively use Twitter. The first two were on what I use to tweet and how to find interesting people to follow.

Today is the final installment: What are hashtags? (And why should I care?)

What are "hashtags"?

"Hashtags" are labels created with the # symbol. For example, #redsox or #pysch. You see, hashtags were developed by early Twitter users to simply organize related tweets.

Hashtags draw attention to a tweeted conversation. Conferences and seminars use them to both help organize tweets that happen during the event and to market their event to people who aren't even there. For example, Blackbaud uses #bbcon for all their conferences.

This is invaluable. Apps like HootSuite's [affiliate link] search on a hashtag or word and make a continuously updated column of tweets. You can learn alot from these conferences without ever leaving your desk.

That's why I love Tweetgrid. This is a wonderful, simple, clean website you can use to follow multiple hashtags at the same time. If you choose a 1x2 grid, you can follow learn from the #bbcon and the #redsox game at the same time! :)

Some of the more common hashtags are #followfriday and #charitytuesday. But there are many more.

In truth, hashtags aren't really needed anymore. Twitter Search and other tools make it really easy to find words and topics without needing the #. Now when I search, I search on the term and the hashtag, like "#redsox OR Red Sox."

Listen in on conversations in real-time

And this is one of the most powerful uses of Twitter. It allows you to listen in on what other people are saying about things important to you. Check out the official Skittles website. The "chatter" button goes directly to the page that shows all the Tweets about Skittles.

Nonprofits and businesses can use this to find out what people are really saying about them, their products, or the problems their products solve. They can see the real frustrations and the real joys. One very creative Comcast employee, Frank Eliason, seized on this and created @comcastcares. Now a team of people, this Twitter account monitors comments about Comcast and tries to help sort out problems as quickly as possible.

How could your organization use this? Today?

There, you have the answers to all three Twitter questions I've been getting most recently. I hope they prove helpful for you!

About Marc Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the author of "Ask Without Fear!" and founder of FundraisingCoach.com and the weekly email service “Fundraising Kick.” Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences around the world and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family!

Follow him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.

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