Your Public Relations and Communications Community

Do Twitter hashtags attract readers, or push them away?


March 28, 2013

Twitter users add “hashtags” to their messages thinking they’ll join a stream on the same topic and therefore find a wider audience. But it’s unlikely that using hashtags achieves those results, especially for the most popular topics, says the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.

According to Twitter, the hashtag “#SuperBowl” was used 3 million times over about five hours on Super Bowl Sunday this year, an average of 167 tweets per second. At that rate, users had 1/17 of a second to find any given tweet, which Nieman likens to a single drop of water screaming for attention as it rushes over Niagara Falls. Even worse for Twitter users hoping to gain a larger audience, the default view for search results shows “Top” tweets, based on a formula that favors messages and users that have already gained a following.

Hashtags can be useful for gathering messages from small groups of people — at a conference, for example. But in most cases they’re ineffective, and with their jarring blue characters, aesthetically damaging. A tweet that’s free of hashtags is more pleasing to the eye, more easily consumed, and thus more likely to be re-tweeted. For every person who stumbles upon a tweet via hashtag, many more are likely to be put off by hashtag overuse. — Greg Beaubien



Comments

David Chamberlain says:

It takes a special mastery of twitter to get results from a hashtag.They are only ineffective if you don't get any retweets, you can ask your friends to retweet you and the more retweets you get then the higher you will appear in the top results for that hashtag. Also the right tweet at the right time can get you a lot of retweets, that split second you have in front of an audience can become viral.

March 29, 2013

James Brooks, APR+M says:

I was at an event where a large screen was posted and the tweets of attendees could be seen when #eventname was used. Naturally, people were tweeting about the event more so to see their tweet on the big screen than anything else. But in the back of my mind, I was thinking about the number of followers who were learning about the event because of this tactic. I thought it was an excellent way to get people to raise awareness of the event.

April 2, 2013

Tim says:

I have to point out that the Nieman Lab article is lacking any factual evidence for the claim that hashtags are somehow harmful. In fact, many studies show otherwise. A recent study from Poytner (http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/189021/twitter-study-hashtags-and-urls-can-double-engagement/) found that hashtags actually double your retweets. I think that you have to use hashtags wisely, but to say you'll get fewer retweets simply because they "aren't aesthetically pleasing" is not sound advice. Read the comments on that post and you'll hear the same sentiment.

April 4, 2013

Robert says:

It is worth noting that the Poynter study mentioned above has three issues: 1. Study was done by Twitter who has a self-promotional interest in stating the benefits of hashtag use. Hashtags on TV and advertising is synonymous with Twitter. 2. If there really was more engagment, this is a study of only news organizations and journalists. I would argue that people who follow these people and click on their content are the news junkie type who are constantly looking for more information. The majority of PRSA members probably have clients who are not in the news business -- instead, most of us try to get journalists to cover us. 3. In addition, the study does not state whether tthre is a difference between the use of general hashtags (i.e. #Obama, #finance) or custom hashtags (i.e. #MyConference13 #MyBrandsCampaign). More relevant questions would be: Do journalists engage with hashtags? Does your typical small and large brand see more engagement from using hashtags? Tim, regarding the aesthetically pleasing comment. I agree somewhat, but there have been studies that show that correlate greater numbers of links, hashtags, @mentions, and characters with fewer retweets/click through rates. There is a diminishing law of return with the more junk you put into a tweet.

April 27, 2013

Post a Comment

Editor’s Note: Please limit your comments to the specific post. We reserve the right to omit any response that is not related to the article or that may be considered objectionable.

Name:
Email:
Comment:
Validation:

To help us ensure that you are a real human, please type the total number of circles that appear in the following images in the box below.

(image of four circles) + (image of four circles) =

 

Online PR Training: FREE With PRSA Membership

Broaden your skill set with access to an extensive library of live and on-demand professional development webinars — one of PRSA's premier member benefits.