Hashtags, those old-fashioned pound signs (#) that we place in front of words to organize our information and spark conversations (#helloitsspring) on social platforms, could have been claimed as intellectual property and patented by former Google designer Chris Messina.
In this interview with Business Insider, Messina said: "The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today is valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea."
Messina's intellectual property is the string of code he wrote for the hashtag. This handy symbol pulls together topics of interest, allowing readers to search for related people, places, things, and events across the Internet. As writers, editors and publishers, how do we harness this "stupidly simple but effective idea?"
This blog post provides an overview of three tools: Hastagify.me, RiteTag and Tagboard.
Initially, Twitter rejected Messina's suggestion about the hashtag as "too nerdy," translated to mean, perhaps, it's tailor-made for conversations among academics and their publishers.
A hashtag's power comes from its relational connections to content. The three tools discussed in this post allow you to weigh the value of hashtags in relation to your goals and audience. To go a step further, you can dig deeper into these relationships by frequency, influence, time of day, among other parameters.
Keep in mind a hashtag does not deliver equal results across all social platforms. In fact, if you use hashtags on Facebook, for example, the hashtag appears to trigger something akin to Hester Prynne wearing the Scarlet Letter, directing readers away from your content. According to a 2016 study by Buzzsumo, Facebook posts without hashtags have significantly higher levels of engagement.
Alternatively, hashtags can be excellent tools for facilitating engagement on platforms such as Google+, Instagram, and of course, Twitter.
As a new member of the Society for Scholarly Publishers, I'm looking forward to the annual meeting in Boston, May 31 to June 2, 2017. The meeting hashtag is #SSP2017. Since there is not much activity with this specific hashtag yet, I used last year's hashtag (#SSP2016) to identify conversation influencers from the 2016 conference.
Tool #1: Hashtagify.me: You'll notice in this graphic (right) that we are looking at #SSP2016 in the center and the spokes of 10 related hashtags. At first blush, the related hashtags do not provide much insight. However, the Top Influencers tab was more helpful. In addition to learning about the size of each network, I played around with several hashtags in relation to these influencers and found valuable information.
Hashtagify.me's Top Influencer feature cuts to the chase.
Tool #2: RiteTag: This tool is visual and intuitive. The algorithm called to my attention that #SSP2016 is a hashtag used in multiple contexts. So while I had the sense from Hastagify.me that the related hashtags were not helpful, I recognized immediately why in RiteTag.
By design, a conference hashtag has a short lifespan. To mine the hashtags for more value, I took advantage of RiteTag's comparative horsepower. I selected the following hashtags: #copyright, #scholcomm, #scholarlywriting, #phdlife, #publishing, #academicwriting, #books, #AcWriMo, #scholarly, #editors, #universitypress #pubtech, #articlewriting, #academicpublishing, #openaccess.
In this second screenshot, we see what is trending in the moment. RiteTag gives helpful tips for pairing hashtags in relation to conversation trends. For example, while I am writing this blog post, tweets containing the hashtags #socialmedia paired with #scholcomm are trending. Before I schedule the post link for Twitter, I can select the optimal hashtags as well as the best days and times to share the link.
If you are like me, you could spend hours frolicking among the hashtags, losing focus and wasting valuable time. To stay on task, you might try these tips.
By design, a conference tag has a short life span. It's ideal for live tweets from the conference; but the farther away in time, the more diluted the hashtag becomes by other conferences with using the same hastag.
RiteTag gives helpful tips for pairing hashtags in relation to conversation trends. Multiple studies show two hashtags per tweet is optimal for engagement on Twitter.
Tool #3: Tagboard: The clean, sleek, and ridiculously simple design of Tagboard makes it a pleasure to use for hashtag research.
From the screenshot, you'll notice Tagboard displays hashtag results by network and post type. Because each social network has its own audience (similar to cable channels), you do not want to post the same content across all networks. The Tagboard channel and post filters make it easy to see current content and presentation style.
Immediately, I see three benefits.
Tagboard displays hashtag results by network and post type.
Hashtags are easy to learn, flexible, and a powerful way to segment conversations. I encourage you to create a goal, make a list of hashtags, and try out all three tools. Not only might you be more influential in social conversations than you think, you might also discover new opportunities to engage with colleagues and to make new connections. Please share your thoughts and favorite tools in the comments section.
For my networking goal, I believe Tagboard's functionality is a good choice. Below is the Tagboard I created. I look forward to meeting you in Boston!
My Tagboard to follow and engage in conversations about the Society for Scholarly Publishers Annual Meeting in Boston. The skyline image of Boston is from Unsplash.com, which is my favorite site for royalty-free images. I created the header in Canva.