The hashtag (the # sign) is a great tool for organizing information on Twitter. If you’re at a conference, for instance, and you all use the same tag like #SCBWILA11, then all the info from that conference is easily linked together.
You can also use a hashtag to broaden your audience. For example, if I think my tweet would be of specific interest to people who follow a certain tag, I can add that tag to my tweet and potentially get a whole new audience to see me and my tweet.
Sometimes, something you write might have multiple audiences, and it’s tempting to add a lot of hashtags. I think it’s easy to go overboard, and then you end up with a few possible downsides rather than upsides.
A #tweet #with #lots of hashtags looks ugly. #yes #ugly #and #aesthetics #matter. When I see an ugly tweet like that, it catches my eye, but not in a good way. I have seen 11 different hashtags in a tweet, and even though they were all at the end of the tweet… it was nearly impossible to read.
If you add a lot of tags, you run the risk of using some that are low traffic used (or, in the case of #kidlitchat really only used once a week actively). When that happens, you can end up looking like the only person using the tag: it’s not unusual for me to check a tag and see the same person with the last four tweets… and a couple of them are repeats.
REMEMBER THE CORALLARY
If you are looking at a lot of semi-related tags (here is a list of children’s literature related tags on Twitter), the odds are other people are looking at them, too. When I see the same tweet 5 of 6 times at the same time in my columns or lists… boy, that’s NOT a good impression.
GOOGLE DOESN’T LIKE IT
Google views the overuse of hashtags much like spam, and excludes those tweets from their real time search results. So, while you’re possibly finding new audience members by using their tags on your tweets, you’re losing other
IT CAN LOOK SELFISH
Yes, this is an opinion… but when I see a huge list of tags, to me that means “LOOK AT ME!!!!” even if the intent is “hey, I really, truly think you’ll like this.”
Sure, it’s possible a single tweet (often a URL and a short, short description) is something that everyone in all those tags would be interested in. But as you use more and more tags, particularly closely related ones (#yalitchat and #yalit and #kidlit) that have a lot of overlap, it’s hard to see a tweet loaded with tags and think it’s not about getting the biggest possible audience.
SOLUTION: TWEET CREATIVELY
As always, I’m a big fan of experimentation. Try a few tags and track how many folks click on your link or if you get new followers or if you get conversation or… well… if you achieve your goals by using the tags. If you don’t, they aren’t effective, and it’s time to move on.
Try refreshing the message in different ways and tweeting at different times to different tags rather than trying to hit them all at once. You don’t want the same tweet three times each with three different hashtags, but think of how you can refresh and reframe your message.
Again, there are no official rules about how to use hashtags (a user invention, by the way). In talking with some heavy duty Twitter users, most felt that more than three tags was pushing it. I like that as a guideline, too, knowing that sometimes you’ll have no tags and sometimes you might need more.
But thinking of that guideline might also help us all streamline out tweets by forcing us to ask “why am I tweeting this? What’s my goal in doing so? Am I reaching my goal?” And then, we can move on if need be, or keep on doing what we’ve been doing if it’s working.
Any thoughts from my Twitter friends hereabouts? How many tags is too many?