Twitter #hashtags are #harmful, says New York Times social media editor, Daniel Victor

Mar 28, 2013   //   by Mike   //   Latest News  //  Comments Off on Twitter #hashtags are #harmful, says New York Times social media editor, Daniel Victor

YOU can stop adding hashtags to your tweets. They’re annoying, overused and unlikely to gain you more followers.

At least, that’s according to the social media editor of the New York Times.

Daniel Victor says hashtags are not nearly as valuable as we think they are, largely because too many people are using them.

The first time a hashtag was used was for a technology conference called #barcamp. The concept was the brainchild of Google designer and technologist, Chris Messina who tagged tweets relating to particular events in 2007 in order to create groups of related threads on Twitter, according to Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society.

However the first “big event” it was used for was during the San Diego fires in 2007. The Iranian elections of 2009-2010 demonstrated that the hashtag could be a useful form of protest. The “Green revolution” was one of the first times Twitter was used for the purpose of protest. Protesters in Iran and supporter around the world used the #iranelection hashtag (amongst others) to communicate with each other and with people across the world as to the events unfolding in real time.

But since 2007, hashtags have been created for almost everything, from #firstworldproblems to #auspol – a hashtag used to discuss Australian politics, or to abuse public figures.

According to Twitter, the #SuperBowl hashtag was used more than three million times in five hours. If you were one of those people who used the hashtag, unless you’re famous, have a large following or are very, very funny, it’s likely your tweets got buried under the weight of all the other incoming #SuperBowl related tweets, Mr Victor says.

“In most searches, the quantity of tweets is overwhelming and the quality underwhelming,” Victor wrote for news website, Nieman Lab. “It’s worth questioning how many users find hashtag searches useful, but it’s hard to know, since Twitter doesn’t provide such data.”

Part of the problem is the way hashtag searches are displayed. While Twitter puts the “Top Tweets” into a separate category, finding the everyman’s tweet requires a second click over to the “all” category. And if there are a lot of tweets branded with the same hashtag, well, good luck with that.

However Victor says that not all hashtags are worthless. He told that occasionally even he participates in the hashtag #replacemovietitleswith, which sees film titles replaced with popular buzzwords or naughty words. “The best kinds of hashtags are ones people want to browse through, read and get something out of.

“The #tweetyour16yearoldself hashtag, I fully support that. I think that’s a great example of using the hashtag the right way,” he said.

Mashable does it really well. Many Fridays they’ll have a joke tweet, usually containing some kind of pop culture reference or a mashup of two different things. It’s really funny and I’m not sure if they write blogs off of it or not, but they tend to get international respect and I think people who follow Mashable appreciate the brand for doing it.”

However, Victor also said that it can be used as a weapon. The #Auspol hashtag is a prime example of that, where ideologues on both sides of the political aisle tweet horrible things about people like Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard, or the people who support them, under the guise of contributing to debate. “I think the hashtag can be a battlefield,” he added.

But it’s not like hashtags don’t have their benefits. Victor acknowledges that for smaller, intimate events like conferences, hashtags can be useful.

“They’re great for gathering small groups of people; at a conference, there’s no better way to connect with other attendees and read brief summaries of sessions,” he wrote.

“When kept to a small scale, they can ably perform their service as a filter of relevant tweets (#EastVillage is more manageable than #NYC).”

And there’s also the old hashtag that’s useful for subtext.

“We’ve all sent emails and text messages that should have had #sarcasm attached,” he wrote.

However, “for every person who stumbles upon your tweet via hashtag, you’re likely turning off many more who are put off by hashtag overuse,” Victor argues.

The social media editor says a hashtag-free tweet is more likely to be retweeted because it’s more pleasing to the eye and easier to consume.

Users should focus on the quality of their tweets, instead of saying any old thing and hashtagging it, expecting people to like it. (Looking at you, #auspol).

In response to Victor’s post, Twitter told that the hashtag “was simply a way to categorising your tweets so that they are part of a specific conversation like #Ashes or #Logies so that they’re easier to find on Twitter.”
Moral of the story: This is an intervention. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

You’re overusing the hashtag. We’re not saying you should go cold turkey but you need to start cutting down.

Think before you tweet or risk losing followers.

You’ve been warned.

Read more: