Why I Love The #Hashtag
Image from: The Guardian’s “Hashtags: From Twitter to Facebook“
Sometime in January of 2009, only a month after I started blogging, I was invited to a blogger event. The invite said, “Stay connected by following us on Twitter!” I cringed and thought, “What is Twitter?” and then after checking it out thought, “Why would anyone want to use this? What a mess of information overload!”
By the end of that week, I was hooked. I loved everything about Twitter. My love for Twitter was such, that at one point I said to my friends caught up in some Facebook drama, and in awe of my absolute cluelessness of it all, that, “If it didn’t happen on my Twitter stream, it didn’t happen.”
As I get closer to my 100,000th tweet, and after many professional connections, job offers, accolades, new friendships, and new professional partnerships, I still love Twitter more than FB. But I get why people see it as no more than noise, a platform for spammers, a total waste of time. I might have convinced a few here and there about the power of Twitter and how, once you understand that it works best when you approach it as another way to reach your community, or build it (as opposed to just looking at it as a way to market your product and lock down a sale), it can really be a great way to reach your audience and extend your reach.
I am hardly the most prolific person on that platform, but because I never aimed to be, nor have I ever made it about the “numbers” but about the conversation, I am under no pressure and have a solid community of friends, mentors, and followers (yeah, maybe a couple of bots too, which is unavoidable) that have been with me from the beginning. And with whom I often “talk” to.
I have avoided some stress too, such as: the need to hide behind an anonymous or secret account that reveals my true self; the need to buy followers in order to impress upon potential employers that I am somebody worth their investment; and the need to only talk about travel (when I also have a love for HGTV and Gawker, talking smack during award shows, and Instagraming my kids).
The lesson I learned is that once I saw how to make Twitter work for me, both professionally and personally, once I was comfortable in who I was there and with whom I connected, I grew to love it. I also realized that my initial hostility was a product of my limited view or lack of knowledge of it all.
How does all of this relate to Twitter (and now Facebook) hashtags?
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s some serious hashtag hate out there. And I get it.
Like anything, it can be excessive, spam, and too self-promoting. When hashtags don’t follow the same rules that every other element of Social Media follow, then what the naysayers point out becomes true. But I also see the positive. Like, for example, the community.
There are several travel blogging communities that I enjoy connecting with, such as those in #travel, #familytravel, #nyc, #food, and #photography. There are community conversations I like to follow and sometimes take part in, such as #FriFotos, #TTOT, #TravelTuesday, #TNI, and #ExpediaChat and people whom I adore who will create hashtags that encourage further connection and conversation. Their hashtags, their hashtagged parties, their hashtagged anything are on my fave list and when I want to follow the convo all I have to do is “click” and boom…there they are in all their awesomeness. I have found so many great people this way, and so many great communities too. And they have found me too, bringing to life everything there is to love about social media.
When I travel, whether on a press trip, or a self sponsored trip, I use a hashtag. I am not an idiot. I want to access my reach, define my metrics (just as any brand I have partnered with would do) and figure out what is working for me professionally. Though I don’t work too hard to shape my voice to shape the metrics, I need to have this information when pitching a client for work. It’s the nature of the beast. The only reason the beast isn’t feeding off of me, is because I have not relinquished my control, or my soul, for it.
I observe and listen to what my readers say they want to see, read, and find useful, because the reason they read/or follow/or are connected with me anyway is to hear about/learn/be a part of what I do. Now, if someone hates that, then it makes sense they would hate my travel or my travel related hashtags…but then they would probably not like any of my content either since it’s all related. And you can’t win them all.
Hashtags are not the devil. They are not (solely) used for evil. They are not (only) spammy, marketing text. If you know how to balance the message well, and don’t try to manipulate the message, but rather keep community first, then they can be great.
Hashtags allow me to do cool things like:
Bring my readers closer to an experience or destination:
Lunch time in @BryantParkNYC. #nyc #travel #6secondpostcard
Share my family’s vacations:
Maybe, if you hate hashtags, you haven’t found your hashtag. Maybe, like my initial reaction to Twitter, it just looks like a bunch of noise to you. There are certainly some out there that serve more as warnings and repel rather than be welcoming signs of epic-ness. But, in my opinion, hashtags whether for metrics, brands, campaigns, latest news, ads, tweet chats/party, events, or comedy and rants, can do so much to inform and connect and can benefit anyone using them, if they understand how and don’t abuse them in the process.
In short, hashtags are pretty much #heretostay, so either we learn to work with them and around them, as well as adhere to the same do’s and dont’s often highlighted in social media guidelines, or we stand to miss out in the many opportunities they offer us, our readers, and community. The cool thing in all of this is that the choice is yours. Just don’t dismiss the overall value others see in embracing them.