How Many is Too Many Twitter Hashtags?

by Greg on May 31, 2011

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.

UGLY TWEETING

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.

HASHTAG SQUATTING

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?

 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Loreen Leedy June 1, 2011 at 8:09 am

I agree with most of the above… and 3 tags is plenty. I would also add that some of the above practices, especially tweet nagging (repeating the same info over and over with teensy variations) is a great way to get unfollowed. Kinda defeats the entire purpose of social media, no? Thanks for the post!

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Greg Pincus June 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Yeah, tweet “nagging” can be dicey. I know many people who will do the same tweet every 8 hours or so, as they know they have a worldwide audience, so the odds are folks are sleeping when they’re tweeting. That makes sense to me… though if they do it day after day, even with some time variations, it seems like… nagging? desperation? frustration?… something not so good, anyway. As always, though, everyone has a different view, so I’m always curious to hear from others!

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Harold Underdown June 1, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Thanks for posting about this, Greg! This has bothered me from time to time. I tend to agree with Loreen that more than 3 is too many, though of course there may be exceptions.

I think “nagging” is a bit harder to define. I do send out periodic “reminder” tweets about my editorial services, for example, but not every day, and not at the same time of the day–I’m hoping they reach different audiences. If I had any sense that I was overdoing it, I’d cut back.

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Greg Pincus June 2, 2011 at 10:24 am

I don’t think reminders are nagging. There’s nothing wrong with letting folks know about our jobs, our needs, our books, our whatever… but when it’s too repetitive AND when it’s too high a percentage of what we tweet, that’s when I think it runs into trouble. But there’s no question that one tweet or one FB update won’t reach a bulk of your connections, so trying different ways to refresh a message makes good sense.

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Barbara Watson June 2, 2011 at 10:46 am

I read somewhere in Twitter etiquette that three hashtags should be the max. When I see a long list of hashtags, I feel, I don’t know, put off by that person. Definitely the ‘look at me’ thing.

And tweet nagging – eek! I’ve unfollowed people that do that.

Funny hashtags amuse me – even when they really don’t connect to anything.

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Jenn Hubbard June 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I think 25 hashtags in a tweet is definitely too many. ;-)

OK, now for a non-smart-alecky answer: I’ve actually been thinking how fascinating it is to watch “rules for Twitter” evolve. You’re discussing hashtags, and Nathan Bransford discussed retweeting earlier this week on his blog, and these are just two examples of explorations of the social rules (or, at least, conventions) that people are developing. There has to be an anthropology thesis in here somewhere!

As to the hashtags: I don’t have a rule, and it doesn’t really irk me if others use a lot of them. (I tend to use only one or, at most, two, per tweet myself.) But I do like tweets to say something, and the more hashtags one uses, the less room there is to say anything.

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Sally Apokedak June 2, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Thanks for this. I don’t use twitter because the few times I’ve been on it, I haven’t been able to figure it out. It seems that all the people know each other and they are conversing back and forth and I can’t keep up.

So my question has nothing to do with hashtags but I wonder if you might address this in a future post: How do you join the conversation? How many times a day you check in? If you go in, say…at 6 PM for one hour, do you just read a few posts and then start talking to people?

On facebook I scan newsfeed and I click on like or I make a comment and that thread isn’t moving and disappearing at lightning speed. But in twitter, the tweets disappear so quickly. Am I looking at this wrong? Is it like the old chat rooms we used to hang out in where you just jump in and out of conversations each night and pretty soon you recognize the same people on at the same time each day?

Sorry for high-jacking this thread. You can delete it if you want. I just wonder if you might do a post for really newbie people one day.

OK back to your regularly scheduled program.

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Rafieh January 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I also hate when people use hashtags outside of twitter (like in facebook) or when they think that #Hashtags Can Contain Spaces or when they #enclose# their hashtags. Or when #TheyUseReallyLongHashtagsContainingSeveralWords.

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Tekojin July 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I agree with most of the above… and 3 tags is plenty. I would also add that some of the above practices, especially tweet nagging (repeating the same info over and over with teensy variations) is a great way to get unfollowed

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