What the Heck is a Hashtag?

As a 20-nearly-30 something economic developer, one question I'm asked frequently by clients and even other staff members is: "So what's a hashtag again?"  

A hashtag is this little character: #

Think about hashtags as unique search terms used to find tweets about a similar topic. A popular hashtag for tweets about economic development is #econdev.

There are a few different stories of how hashtags came into use on Twitter, this one is my favorite: 

When our buddy Sully landed the plane in the Hudson River in 2009, the story broke on Twitter as thousands of people watching the event unfold began tweeting. People watching from their offices, ferries, bridges, and anywhere else within eyeshot of the scene posted updates of the landing and rescue - some tweets even came from passengers on the ferries that helped in the rescue! At some point a tweet was posted with #flight1549, which caught on as other tweeters started using this hashtag in their posts. With so many tweets flying all at once about this single event, it didn't take long for people to realize they could follow what was happening  - live - by searching for #flight1549. Thus, the hashtag was born (or at least became more popular as users recognized its value).

One of the best times to follow a hashtag on Twitter is during a conference or important event; even when you can't attend in person you can still be part of the conversation. For example, just the other day NYS's Governor Cuomo gave the State of the State Address. Instead of waiting an hour or two - eons! - after the speech to read the highlights in the news, I followed the hashtag #NYSOS14 where reporters and others in attendance tweeted quotes, reactions, and observations - live. (This is known as "live tweeting".) I'm also cheap and won't buy cable so I follow Syracuse basketball games by following #orangenation.

Many economic development organizations use the name of their community as a hashtag in their tweets like #Allentown or #Denver. Anyone can make a hashtag, there are no rules so feel free to make up whatever hashtag you want - you can't break anything!

Tweet on! 

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