After @KristenLambTX decided to reclaim her hashtag, #myWANA, by announcing that she would block anyone who prescheduled tweets using it, I had to ask myself: Have I been abusing hashtags, too?
For those of you new to Twitter, a hashtag is a searchable keyword that you attach to a tweet using the pound sign. For example, this tweet by @advicetowriters uses three hashtags: “The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone. MARTIN AMIS #amwriting #writetip #writing” By clicking on any of those hashtags, you can view all recent tweets that include it.
You can find lists of popular writing hashtags all over the Internet. Some of my favorites are:
#FF (follow Friday)
#WW (Writerly Wednesday)
I used to think that my most egregious hashtag faux pas was my failure to use them. Then I did a little research. It turns out that @johannaharness started the #amwriting hashtag as a live chat. Each morning she would take roll call (and she still does), and a small group of writers would chat about writing using the #amwriting hashtag. They weren’t using it to post links to their blogs. They weren’t using it to promote their books. They were using it to talk about writing. What a novel idea! The chat grew longer and longer until it was running 24/7. But the intention of the hashtag—and all hashtags, really—was never meant to be the classified writing ads of Twitter. It was meant to be a chat—a conversation among writers about writing.
You may have noticed that many of the popular writing hashtags have “chat” in their title. For a more comprehensive list, refer to The Writer’s Guide to Twitter’s Week at a Glance of writing chats. But what is the difference between hashtags like #amwriting and #writechat? “Slow chat” hashtags like #amwriting take place all day, every day, while “live chat” hashtags like #writechat (which often have “chat” in their title, but sometimes don’t, like #bookmarket and #askagent) host regularly scheduled weekly or biweekly chat sessions (except #askagent, which is unscheduled). Live chats have moderators and often feature a particular topic of discussion and/or a special guest.
For example, #blogchat takes place every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST. While some hashtags have their own websites, others have a Facebook page where the moderator posts a link to the transcript of the chat for those who missed it. The easiest way to take part in a live chat session on Twitter is via a client like TweetChat.
Whether you join a live chat session or tweet using the hashtag of a “slow chat,” employ hashtags with discretion. It’s okay to link to a related article or blog post, but follow the 5:1 rule: for every link you tweet, post five tweets that contribute to the conversation. To get an idea of why this is so important, click on one of the above hashtags and see which posts interest you most: the ones written by writers eager to engage in conversation or the ones posting links?
Another suggestion was brought to my attention by @Janice_Hardy: Avoid using a hashtag on tweets that tend to get a lot of retweets. This may seem counterintuitive, but think of it like this. If I post a tweet that says, “10 Ways to Get Your Book Published NOW: www.10ways.com #pubtip” and 20 people retweet it, my own tweet as well as all 20 retweets are going to post to the #pubtip hashtag stream. So when you click on #pubtip, you’re going to find 21 of the same tweet. Pretty annoying, right?
Hashtags, like tweet-scheduling, are a wonderful Twitter tool that should be used but not abused.
What are your favorite writing hashtags? Do you participate in live Twitter chats? Which ones are your favorites?