So, you’ve made a Twitter account and are completely hooked. You’re following a bunch of people, companies, institutions… and if you walk away from Twitter for more than an hour, it seems like you can’t possibly keep up. While the constant stream of information is incredible, it is also overwhelming. Too much to sift through? Doubting all the hype? Are you finding this Twitter thing to be an #epicfail?
Think about those precious days when you unplug for vacation and decide you’re not checking your work email. When you return to your desk, page after page of new emails await you, and the task seems insurmountable. The same feeling applies to your Twitter feed.
This is where hashtags come in! Hashtags (# – the symbol formerly known as the pound key) flag information so that it is more visible to Twitter users. When people tweet information, they flag it with hashtags – making it easier to access later. Hashtags group information by subject. As a Social Studies teacher, I follow #sschat; as someone excited about educational technology, I also search for #edtech. Ready to try it? You can do your own sleuthing by typing in the hashtag in the search bar – and they’ll pop up later if you save your searches.
There are some great resources out there on the web listing hashtags you might want to follow and use. It’s important to not only consume information marked with hashtags – but to tag the information you share, too. If you’ve got a great idea or question, it will most likely go unnoticed if you just tweet it out to the Twittersphere without hashtags. It will be seen, certainly – but in a sea of hundreds of millions of tweets everyday, the ones without hashtags are just floating alone in obscurity.
Hashtags target your audience and flag your information. Let’s say I want to ask my PLN for assistance with flipping my Psychology class. If I just tweet “Need help flipping my Psychology class!” I might get a response. Suppose instead I tweet “Looking for resources for flipping my Psychology class #psychchat #flippedclass #sschat.” I’m going to get better results from my second tweet since it will show up for my fellow Social Studies, Psychology, and Flipped Classroom people.
Quick tip: don’t overdo it on hashtags. Two or three per tweet is enough! Hashtags can flip pretty quickly from useful to spam if you add too many.
Another great use of the hashtag is for chatting. Groups of educators will plan to “meet” online at a certain time and use the same hashtag to chat. Think of it as a public chatroom. On Wednesday nights at 9 pm EST, for example, you can use the hashtag #1to1edchat to connect to other educators. Each week, several questions are posed by a moderator and opened up for discussion. You can sit back and watch the ideas fly or jump in and contribute. Can’t make it to the chat time but still want to see the discussion? Check back the next morning using the chat’s hashtag.
Lists are another great way to curate information in your feed. Think of it as your top ten (or twenty or thirty…) list. If I have the time, I like to scroll through my feed and check out everything that’s there. I quickly skim the titles and hashtags and decide what to mark and retweet and follow up on. If I’m crunched on time – or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information awaiting me – I head to my lists.
If you’re using a web browser, click the gear near the search bar, and then click lists. I’ve created 4 so far: and I spend most of time looking through my “Edtech Gurus” list. I’ve added the people that I read, retweet, and interact with most; with my list, I’ve bookmarked their Twitter feeds for quick access. Figure out who your go-to, core people are and create a list with them on it.
Between the hashtags and the lists, you should be able to manage the vast amount of information percolating in your PLN!