The Importance of Hashtags

By | May 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Baratunde Thurston from “The Onion” shares his guide to social media through the power of #hashtags.


Baratunde Thurston’s speech at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York 2009 titled “There’s a hash tag for that?” is a fantastic guide to Social Media. He keeps his audience engaged from the moment he walks onto the stage, having them involved andappreciating his calm sense of humour. Baratunde, among many other things is Web Editor of “The Onion”.

By showing us the results from a number of case studies he has performed, he stresses the importance of #hashtags and their use with Twitter. Back in 2008 when Swine Flu was ripe in many parts of the world, Baratunde saw an opportunity to “become the swine flu on twitter”. Using his knowledge of the web and his comedic talents, he created a profile on Twitter named “The Swine Flu”. Within 2 weeks “The Swine Flu” had posted many tweets and received a huge amount of followers.

Baratunde lightly goes through a number of steps to ensure you are getting the most out of your Twitter profile and posts. Brand Your Profile. With Baratunde using “The Swine Flu”, he has chosen a popular topic that is spoken about all around the world. With his location and Bio both being light and humorous this encourages people to follow, comment and retweet which creates an active profile.

Be Provocative. Twitter posts to the world. Tweet something on your profile with a relevant #hashtag and see what comes back. When people are searching on Twitter for something they want to learn more about, such as #SwineFlu this will come up in their search.

Join the Conversation: when a bit of interest is building around your #hashtag join in on the conversation, create a bit of traffic to your twitter profile, follow some people, watch people follow you back. Which brings us to Baratunde’s third step. Follow your target market. You don’t want to just follow anyone on your Twitter profile, you want to follow people who will be interested in your tweets and are likely to follow you back, follow people within your line of work, that tweet about the things you tweet about and are active Twitter users.

You want to Stay Positive on your Twitter profile. If you’ve had an emotionally bad day, your followers do not want to hear this, if you really need to broadcast it to the world, try adding a bit a humour to your Tweet, or look at it from a positive perspective. Baratunde mentions “Be an authentic and legitimate member of the community – and positivity is part of that”. “The Swine Flu” even manages to stay positive by tweeting humorous thank-you’s to @bbc slagging @nytimes.

“The Swine Flu” uses Twitter to Collaborate with people who also have a profile by asking for help, tips, pointers and general advice. Always ending each tweet with #SwineFlu. Sharing your achievements. Don’t be shy to show the world what you and your company have achieved. Twitter is a great platform to launch a campaign, new site, or to tell your clients that Pam the receptionist gave birth to a healthy baby boy! Your followers want to hear your good news – that’s why they follow you. End it with a #hashtag, search and locate your Tweets and see what people have been Tweeting about you.

Once you have successfully launched your profile on one platform you want to Diversify your social media visibility on multiple platforms. Reach out to a different audience and create a larger network. Baratunde uses Facebook in this example. Facebook has more than 400 million active users, with different abilities than Twitter. Facebook can host events, host an event on Facebook and use a #hashtag to promote it on Twitter, ask your guests who are attending the event to use the #hashtag when they comment about it, search for the comments and stay involved in the conversation. Keep it active!

When adding a #hashtag to a Tweet, it’s important to not only add your own #hashtag but to add any #hashtag that is relevant to your Tweet. For instance: Location, Location, Location, “The Swine Flu” writes a tweet:

“In Hong Kong, just checked out the Giant Buddha, where I spent some time meditating on Suffering” #swineflu #h1n1 #Buddhism.

“The Swine Flu’ have used a #Buddhism #hashtag in a Swine Flu Tweet, now when someone searches for #Buddhism, they see the #swineflu tag, this is generating more traffic to their profile which results in more followers.

As a company you always need to Beware the Competition you’ll find Twitter has quite a bit of competition. Before settling on a #hashtag off the top of your head, do a search to see if the #hashtag is being used. Ideally it won’t be used by anyone. You want to be able to track your #hashtags and comments that people are saying about you and your company. If the #hashtag you want is being used by someone, try a different variation or an acronym.

Don’t Forget the Press!: Baratunde even managed to get an interview with the Huffington Post – not as himself – but as “The Swine Flu”. Always Tweet your media appearances, this will give you viewers, readers, followers that you never had.

“The Swine Flu’ was only live on Twitter for a few weeks. In this time the profile gained: 2,000 followers, 100s of RSVPs, voicemails and a studio print interview all starting to join the stream of conversation around Swine Flu.

Baratunde: “What’s the Point? It’s just fun!”

This case study can be applied to any organisation or Twitter profile, Its easy, it’s fun, it generates conversation. c