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Twitter Explains The Secret To Hashtag Success

The Science Of The Hashtag

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 01/14/11 11:03 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

Twitter's Robin Sloan has unearthed the secret to tweeting a successful hashtag: you need the right audience.

A hashtag, a word or series of words preceded by a hash sign (#), is generally used to summarize the tone or topic of a tweet (i.e., #IfBieberMetGaga, #PrayForAustralia, #LessAmbitiousMovies). Accoring to Sloan, tweeting out a hashtag to a large audience does not in and of itself guarantee the hashtag's success.

The key, Sloan wrote in a blog post entitled "The Science of the Hashtag," is to find an audience with whom that tweet will resonate.

Sloan illustrates this point by tracing the lifespan of the #LessAmbitiousMovies hashtag. As #LessAmbitiousMovies was passed along the Twitter pipeline, Sloan noticed that the hashtag earned far more tweets per minute in front of some audiences than others.

Curiously, the hashtag fell flat when tweeted by certain users--even if they had massive followings--but it enjoyed soaring success when it found its way into the hands of tweeters with more engaged followers who were receptive to, inspired by, and eager to pass along the hashtag.

"You find just a couple of key accounts, each with around 15,000 followers, who went absolutely nuts over the hashtags," Sloan explains. Katy Perry, who has 5.2 million followers, posted a tweet with the hashtag, but that "didn't send #LessAmbitiousMovies into orbit again."

Sloan concludes:

[T]here was something special about the people who follow Lizz Winstead and Barracks O'Bama. There were fewer than 35,000 of them, but they were more attentive and more engaged--and maybe just funnier, too?--and it was their collective creativity that made #LessAmbitiousMovies briefly ubiquitous.


So add this finding to your hashtag playbook: getting a great hashtag in front of the right audience is more important than getting it in front of a big audience. Katy Perry's 5.2 million followers saw #LessAmbitiousMovies, laughed, and moved on. Lizz Winstead and Barracks O'Bama's crew of 35,000 saw it--and they made it their own.

Indeed, a large Twitter audience is not always an engaged audience.

Read more about Sloan's study of the hashtag #LessAmbitiousMovies, and view our slideshow of the funniest uses of #LessAmbitiousMovies by comedians on Twitter. Want to know more about Twitter? Check out our post on what we retweet and why.

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