Hashtags on Twitter: What They Do and Why They Matter

Hashtags on Twitter: What They Do and Why They Matter

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Hashtags on Twitter: What They Do and Why They Matter

The majority of lawyers don't use Twitter yet.  Many lawyers wonder, what is a hashtag on Twitter or a 140 word post going to do that blog posts or Facebook posts don't do?  However, hashtags on Twitter are actually a very sophisticated and interesting system that can be used in a huge variety of ways.  If you haven't yet tried to make your own hashtag on Twitter, or if you're brand new and don't even know the answers to the basics, like “what is a hashtag on Twitter?”, you've come to the right place.  This guide starts with the basics of what a hashtag on Twitter does, and then works to teach legal marketing professionals how to create great hashtags on Twitter for law firm marketing purposes.

What is a Hashtag on Twitter?

There can be a huge number of new terms you've never heard of when you start using a website like Twitter.  What is a hashtag on Twitter?  It's basically the way that people do searches by topic, and how you can “tag” what a post is about so that other people can find it.  For example, if someone wanted a post about a policy at Wal-Mart to get the attention of other people, they would use a hashtag on Twitter like #walmart (if they were being neutral) or #walmartfail (if they were being negative).

Hashtags on Twitter don't always mean exactly what you think they do.  Sometimes, a hashtag on Twitter will be used ironically or sarcastically.  In fact, when companies with bad public relations problems have tried to create their own hashtags on Twitter, they often find them co-opted by people who will subvert them.

What is a hashtag on Twitter that went wrong?  When Newsweek created a story called “Muslim Rage” for one of their recent 2012 editions, they didn't anticipate that Muslims all over the USA and around the world would co-opt their article title as a hashtag on Twitter.  Far from being used to show “raging” Muslims, the hashtag on Twitter instead was used playfully and ironically, with people using it and other associated hashtags on Twitter to link to images of Muslims playing on playgrounds, petting cats, and dancing in the streets.

Because of this potential for people to use hashtags on Twitter in any way they choose, it's important to have a good grasp of what is a hashtag on Twitter before you ever start to use them.

What is a Hashtag on Twitter Used For?

Hashtags on Twitter can be used for a very wide range of purposes.  In some cases, people use a hashtag on Twitter not really so that they'll be found, but so that they can express the overall feeling or topic of their post.

At other times, hashtags on Twitter can be used as a form of instant communication and conversation.  What is a hashtag on Twitter that did that?  During Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, people involved in the protest used hashtags on Twitter to communicate movements of police and protesters to each other, even among protesters who didn't know each other personally.

How Can Hashtags on Twitter Work for Law Firms?

Even if you understand now the answer to the question “what is a hashtag on Twitter?”, how does that translate into the real world of law firms?  Well, law firms can actually use hashtags on Twitter in many of the same ways that other businesses and groups do.  If you want to connect with other lawyers, you can start using a hashtag on Twitter that would primarily be used by other attorneys—usually something that's “inside baseball” to your field of law.

If you're looking to get clients from your Twitter presence, you can start making tweets that are about legal issues in the news.  Try finding which hashtags are already being used for a particular event.  How do you find out what is a hashtag on Twitter that is being used already for a topic?  Try searching on Tagalus, which will suggest things based on what you type in.

You can also use hashtags on Twitter to help you communicate brand messages.  Just be sure that your hashtag on Twitter isn't exclusively used for advertising, or it will quickly become known as a spam hashtag and won't get much further attention.

Do We Need Our Own Hashtags on Twitter?

Now that you know not just what is a hashtag on Twitter but also how hashtags on Twitter can work for you, you should probably consider creating a tag or two of your own.  Often, the easiest way to make your own hashtag on Twitter (one that nobody has ever used but you) is to include some reference to your brand in your hashtag.  For instance, any abbreviation of your firm's name can become part of the tag that you use.

If you're still not comfortable with using a hashtag on Twitter (or you are still having trouble understanding exactly what is a hashtag on Twitter), you don't really need to make any new ones.  Instead, you can pick other people's hashtags that appeal to you and are relevant to your post.

Should We Use Other People's Hashtags on Twitter?

Whether or not you decide to create a hashtag on Twitter (or more than one) just for your firm, keep in mind that the best way to have a discussion over Twitter is to make use of other people's established hashtags.  You can keep track of which hashtags are popular by looking at Hashtags.org or any other website devoted to analyzing trending topics.

Each hashtag on Twitter that you use should be one that you are comfortable with using, understand the definition of, and won't misuse.  If you're not quite sure what a particular hashtag on Twitter means, don't be afraid to look it up using Urban Dictionary or TagDef, which are both resources that can help you understand any unintended meanings before you start using a particular tag.

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