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Tracking hashtags on Twitter

Twitter Hashtags in Google ReaderImage by Search Engine People Blog via Flickr

If you're new to Twitter, you may be wondering what all those strange words are preceded by the # symbol. These are called hashtags - basically, it is a method for adding context to your Twitter updates. Similar, in concept, to tagging videos on YouTube or photos on Flickr.

On the right-hand side of your Twitter screen, you'll notice an area called trending topics. These change every day and can reflect upswings in stories being covered in the media, or even Twitter-specific events, such as the popular #followfriday meme.

Every Friday, certain Twitter users will give shout-outs to some of their favorite "tweeps," making it easier for their followers to discover other interesting people on the social network. They tag these updates with the #followfriday hashtag.

The # symbol makes all the data easier to aggregate and track. There are even Web properties solely devoted to tracking and defining hashtags, such as Des Moines' own WTHashtag.com. This site is built upon wiki technology, making it easy for visitors to create their own definition entries for certain hashtags.

Here's one I created: #CarpeDM - use this hashtag any time you're sharing news about something cool, new or innovative happening here in the Des Moines metro area.

So, why would a business be interested in any of this? Let's say that your organization has an entrenched interest in food production and safety, and you want to listen for what's being said on Twitter about the swine flu outbreak. You can easily review real-time chatter by searching for #swineflu on search.twitter.com, or pull trending graphs from services like WTHashtag or Twist.

Listening leads to business intelligence, competitive advantage and new opportunities, so remember to fine-tune your radar to include Twitter hashtags.

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Thanks for including What the Hashtag in your discussion about tracking hashtags. While hashtags are GREAT indicators of what is going on and an easy way to group similar content, often times they are not easy to decipher. The whole reason we started WTHashtag.com was to make it easier to understand these often cryptic codes being used to discuss topics that may be relevant to users (or their businesses).

Aside from just tracking chatter, hashtags are also great for organizing your own discussions. Several hashtag chats have emerged on Twitter where users can come together and hold moderated discussions about a topic of interest. Many of these chats are either organized or sponsored by an interested party, which could include a local business.

Hashtags are a great extension of the conversations on Twitter and as you mentioned, a potential source of intel that may lead to a competitive advantage.

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