Hashtag was the American Dialect Society word of the year in 2012 (beating Gangnam Style to the title!). It’s a word used both on and offline and you will have seen it mentioned during this course. So what exactly is a hashtag?
Hashtags are keywords in a tweet which can be used to group messages on the same subject together. Always preceded by the # symbol, these keywords can be clicked on or searched for to bring up every instance where they have been used even if you don’t follow the person who posted the message. The hashtag for this course is #camDOT which is a shortened version of Cambridge Ten Days of Twitter.
Anyone can create a hashtag but there are some basic rules that you should follow:
- hashtags need to be written as one word. You can combine more than one word but remember not to leave spaces in between e.g.#saturdaylibrarian not #saturday librarian
- try not to make your hashtag too long. Remember that you only have 140 characters to play with in a tweet and hashtags count as characters
- make sure that the hashtag you want to use is not already in use for something else or you might find yourself in the middle of someone else’s conversation! You can check this by searching for the hashtag in the search box
- capitalisation is not important. As long as the hashtag is spelt the same then Twitter will find it e.g. #camDOT and #camdot will bring up the same list of tweets
- much like tagging in a library catalogue, hashtags don’t have to make sense to everyone as long as they make sense to those that use them. For example hashtags for conferences are often shortened versions of the conference name which probably wouldn’t make much sense to those not in the know. Organisers will make participants aware of the hashtag so they know what to use/follow. Be aware that if you want people outside of the core group to understand the hashtag you will need to make it self explanatory
- Mac users will need to press the alt key and the 3 key together to make the # symbol
A small word of caution about creating hastags – always read them through to make sure that it doesn’t accidently spell out something offensive. This has happened to people in the past so it’s good practice to double check and avoid any potential embarrassments!
Hashtags are something which Twitter users developed on their own. Once people became aware of their potential they were widely adopted and today they are even used on rival social networks such as Facebook.
Now that you know what a hashtag is and how to create one it’s time to discuss what they can be used for:
- discussions: as we have already talked about, the main purpose of hashtags is to keep tweets on the same subject together. This is useful when having a conversation on Twitter as it allows people in different countries and time zones to participate. Conversations can go on for a defined period of time or be open-ended but they are always discoverable by searching for the hashtag
- live-chats: as the name suggests these are Twitter chats which take place live at a designated time which has been announced in advance. There are chats on a range of topics which anyone is free to join in. These include library focused chats such as #uklibchat and those which look at related areas such as #HElivechat. Even if you can’t join in live with a chat you can always catch up later by following the hashtag
- conferences and events: this is probably the most common use for hashtags in the library community. People use event hashtags to learn more about an event, even when they can’t attend in person. They can also be used to network with other attendees before the event, something especially useful if you’re a bit unsure about networking. Many events will have a designated hashtag (e.g. #lac14 will bring up tweets from the 2014 Libraries@Cambridge conference). These hashtags can then be used before and after the event to follow up on ideas discussed. It can also be used to live-tweet the conference/event as it happens. Not all conferences welcome their presentations being tweeted (indeed this has caused controversy). If this is the case there will usually be some type of announcement but it’s good practice to check if in doubt
- live-tweeting: as above, live-tweeting is tweeting about an event as it happens. Sometimes events will schedule people to do this officially but it’s usually participants themselves who live-tweet. A word of caution about live-tweeting. It can be difficult to get across an idea in 140 characters, especially when you are trying to listen for the next soundbite. Make sure that your tweet cannot be interpreted in the wrong way and if in doubt then don’t post it. You can always follow up and tweet later after you have clarification. It’s also important to give proper credit for the content of your tweet. One way to do this is by tweeting the full name of the presenter and what they are talking about and then using their initials in subsequent tweets e.g. tweet one: Claire Sewell from Cambridge talks about RDA #hashtag. tweet two: CS: RDA has had a huge impact at Cambridge #hashtag. Live-tweeting doesn’t always have to be serious. Why not check out Librarians Live-Tweeting a Movie to get some practice?
- bringing people together: hashtags can help to bring together like-minded people or groups. Once you have found a hashtag which is useful it’s worth keeping an eye on it to follow the latest developments. A Cambridge example is the #camlibs hashtag which is used by Cambridge librarians to chat, ask for help or share news and resources. It’s my recommendation for the hashtag to follow
Below is a list of some popular hashtags for librarians to follow:
- live-chats: #SLATalk is a regular Twitter chat based in the USA which looks at various topics in librarianship. #ulkibchat is another regular chat (further information can be found here)
- library qualifications: #libraryschool is a good general hashtag to follow but individual school often have their own such as #aberils for Aberystwyth students. The #Chartership tag can be used by anyone working towards CILIP qualifications
- special branches/topics: just as there are many different types of librarianship there are many different hashtags related to them. #speccolls focuses on special collections librarianship whilst #cataloguing focuses on (unsurprisingly) cataloguing. There are also hashtags for information topics such as #infolit for information literacy related tweets
- online reading groups: #llrg is the hashtag for the Library Leadership Reading Group which meets online to discuss a designated article or book. Think book club that you can attend in your pyjamas!
Now that you know all about hashtags it’s time to start using them. Try tweeting out a message with the #camDOT tag to interact with other course participants. If you have any other hashtags which you find useful then feel free to share them with your fellow camdotters. As long as you include the #camDOT hashtag in your tweet they will be able to see it.
Good luck and happy tagging!