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How to Use Twitter Hashtags to Blast Your Reach and Build Your Follower Base

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Crossposted and updated from an article on OpEdNews.com

Use Hashtags For Greater Twitter Success

Here's a Twitter tip:

You can easily use hashtags to reach many more people and build your follower base faster.

Say you've just started with Twitter. You have under 1000, even under 50 followers. You may ask yourself, "Why bother tweeting to so few people?" And you're right.

By using hashtags, you can change all that and reach a massively larger audience than your small following.

Here's why. Other people use the Twitter search box, or they use tweetdeck to routinely view hashtag search results, where you can set up permanent searches that appear as columns.

It's amazing how many people who don't understand Twitter think it's for telling where and when you had coffee. Sure, there are some incredibly boring or narcissistic people who really think that's what Twitter is for. And maybe some celebrities can get away with it. But for most on Twitter, they are trying to make a difference in some way-- for a cause, an ideology, a campaign, or a business. Those people want to reach a lot of people, build a follower base and get their ideas and information out there.

In the spirit of the movie The Graduate, I have one word for you. No, not plastics. The word is hashtags.

More sophisticated Twitter users routinely use hashtags to reach more people, which is a great way to get new followers.

Hashtags, since they are sought by Twitter searchers, instead of just your followers seeing your tweets, can help you reach thousands, even tens of thousands readers who may see them.

A hashtag is simply a tag which has the # sign in front of it. So the hashtag for the tag, "hashtags" would be, "#hashtags."

I first picked up on the power of hashtags at a 2009 Personal Democracy Forum (#pdf09) panel session, from conservative political consultant, David All ( @DavidAll or www.twitter.com/davidall.) He pointed out that #tcot is one of the most popular hashtags used by conservatives, including members of Congress.

I asked which hashtags were used by progressives and got a crowdsourced answer from the audience, that #p2 and #topprog were used, but not as widely as #TCOT.

Since then, whole articles have been written on which ideology is doing better on Twitter, based on stats on #tcot and #p2.

I've been writing a lot about health care, where I'm advocating for single payer, so I did some research to identify related hashtags. I came up with #HC #healthcare #hcr #singlepayer , #publicoption,  and #hc09  and from conservatives-- #obamacare, #healthbill #handsoff. And there are more.

Another tip-- don't use commas between them. Commas eat up your 140 characters.

Here's a list one person used in just one tweet to reach as many conservatives as possible:

#obamacare #healthcare #tcot #ttparty #tporg #teaparty #sgp #palin #entrepreneur #rush #nra

If you're not sure what hashtags to use, do a little research. Use the search function on Twitter with some keywords.

Interested in immigration? The first Twitter search results page only shows #immigration. But the next page gets me to #RI4A

Lots of talk on immigration in the tweets with that hashtag. But what does it mean? I google it and get an answer. Its a conference on immigration. Want to reach people interested in immigrant advocacy who are attending that conference or following it? Use the #RI4A hashtag.

Next, I consider Abortion. Instead of using that word, I try "right to life" which I expect will pull more right wingers, since it's language they use. I go a few pages and there are no meaningful hashtags. There's one, #3The, but it is all alone, probably a typo.

But "right to life" hardly shows up in tweets, with or without hashtags. That suggests a few things to me. You could actually use the Twitter search function to identify trending language -- the stuff that Frank Luntz and George Lakoff specialize in. And also, it suggests that either the right-to-lifers are not twittering, or they're not using their language, or that language is not working.

If I were providing my new media consultation and training to right wing orgs, I might approach some right-to-life orgs and offer my consulting services. More likely they'll reach out to someone like David All, who specializes in right wing campaigns.

Next, let's do a search looking at the Henry Louis Gates arrest story. First, Searching for "Gates" I also see Bill Gates. But the first hashtags to come up are #tcot and #gop. Then, there's #912. Googling it yields this explanation:

The 912 Project Fan Site The 912 Project is providing Americans with 9 Principles and 12 Values that were brought forth to you by the Glenn Beck program on Fox News network.

Not surprisingly, #912 is often combined with #birthcert #TCOT. It's aimed at conservatives.

I refine the search, this time adding the hash mark and search for #gates. Goodbye Bill Gates. Hello #p2, #obama and, eureka, I find #tria. I google it and it doesn't show up, but scrolling down through tweets, I find this illuminating tweet:

@keyinfluencer @donlemoncnn Just caught the segment, thanks again. Tim Wise is a beast. Need you to put me in touch with him #TRIA (TRIA=Race Talk)

So #TRIA is a good one, probably for a liberal perspective. Along with #tria, I see a lot of #BIA, and some #cnn. I'm assuming that this refers to CNN's just released Black In America.

So, if you have written a piece on the Gates Cambridge encounter that you want to promote beyond your followers, you may want to include some of the above hashtags, and maybe some of the Twitter users, like @donlemon, too, who are leading the conversation.

The problem is, you only have those 140 characters for your message, the shortened URL you've created, and those hashtags. That's where you start shortening words changing "for" to "4", "thousands" to "1000s," to to "2," you to "u," "with" to "w" and the like.

Now, your tweet about Henry Louis Gates Jr. may have nothing to do with #bia, outside of him being black. But you know you're going to find a lot of people there who will be interested in a tweet about Gates.

There's the potential to abuse the use of hashtags. Some right wingers will tweet to #p2 and #topprog making nasty, unpleasant remarks or attacks on progressive people, issues or values, and progressives say nasty things to conservatives using the #tcot tag.

The problem is, when you are doing searches on hashtags or keywords, you can't block these people (People, please give a crowdsource answer that I can. That'll be a gift.) So you end up with a lot of what we call, in yiddish, drek-- garbage or crap that you have to winnow through. But people do keep using hashtags and following them.

How's it worked for me? In a year of tweeting over 600 messages, Igathered about 800 followers. In the two months since I finally figured out hashtags, I've added over 400 more.-That's a huge difference. In the last week, I gained about 100 on one account and tripled my followers on my @bottomupmind Twitter account.

Twitter is a very bottom-up tool. Using hashtags, anyone can reach a lot of people. You don't have to be a celebrity with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.

Once you start using hashtags and shortened URLs linking to your own content or content tips, you'll start realizing how you have to edit your tweets to max those 140 characters. I've opened a few more Twitter accounts for different website projects ( www.twitter.com/robkall is my main one for political writing, and is my main one for my work with bottomup new media consulting and writing. But I also do www.twitter.com/fhlt for my futurehealth.org website and www.twitter.com/posexp for my www.positiveexperience.com website.

I could have gone with positiveexperience for a Twitter name, but that uses up soooo many characters, I chose the shorter one, giving me 12 extra characters to work with.

Today, after seeing a press conference in which Martha Coakley, MA AG announced she would be running as a candidate for Teddy Kennedy's US senate seat, I checked to see how many tweets about it had been made. I discovered, looking at the most recent 40, that there was only one hash tag among ALL the tweets and that was for #oakley-- clearly someone attempting to start a new hashtag precedent. So I posted via my new media username, the following tweet, which was an observation of the absence of new media savvy:

Search on "Coakley" 2 min after announcing Sen run only 1 #hashtag in 1st 40 results. http://bit.ly/hashtg new media social media #newmedia

Give hashtags a try. You'll soon realize that not using them is like having a Corvette with a four cylinder engine. Twitter's a powerful tool, but you have to know how to use it. Mastering hashtags takes you further along the path-- a path continually littered with new third party tools and technologies. I'm hoping commenters will add more tips on how to more effectively use hashtags and related third party Twitter apps.

A few more thoughts. To promote this article, I tweeted, using my @bottomupmind account:

bottomupmindHow 2 Use #Hashtags2 boost reach & followers http://tr.im/u6ay #tcot #p2 #topprog #cav #iranelection #michaeljackson #paris #crowdsourcing

That was a bit of a mistake. My plan was to post it first with bottomupmind and then retweet it with my @robkall account, to get them both exposure. I'll do it anyway, but it's not as good.
Also, I used #cav #iranelection #michaeljackson #paris- hashtags because they were among the top trending tags, so I figured I'd reach a lot of people that way. We'll see how much flack I get. Also, note that I didn't leave a space between hashtags and 2. That could ruin search results for that tag.

OKay. I changed the hashtags a bit for the second tweet, using other top tags.
robkallRT @bottomupmind How 2 Use #Hashtags 2 boost reach & followers http://tr.im/u6ay #tcot #p2 #topprog #tdf #harrypotter #france #crowdsourcing

I've since concluded, after these few experiments, that it is not cool to use top trending hashtags to "spam" the "tag pool." I'm sure others will do it, but as a consultant and trainer, I need to set a good example. It may even reach a point, as the wild and woolly world of Twitter settles down, where people who use hashtags inappropriately lose their Twitter privileges.
(updated on September 3, 2009)