Hashtags can be handy. Hashtags can be good. But in my first trip to the SXSW conference, ironically, I’m getting a first-hand view of when hashtags can go totally wrong.
Someone decided it would be a great idea for every session to have a hashtag. OK, I get that. It makes it easy to see a conversation around a particular session. But the bad idea was giving no real thought to the length of those tags.
Consider. I’ve been on two sessions this week. One was Getting Your Game Found In Search Engines, with the assigned tag of:
That’s 23 characters — 16% of the total 140 you’re allowed in a tweet. Why so long? Why not #gameengine or #gamesearch or #gmsch
Another session was Beyond Algorithms: Search and the Semantic Web, where the hashtag was:
That’s 17 characters, 12% of the total 140. Why not #beyondalgo or #balgo?
Now consider the hashtags suggested for today’s keynote by Twitter cofounder Evan Williams:
#SXSW #evwilliams #mondaykeynote
That’s 32 characters, 23% of the space available. Thank goodness Ev is just @ev on Twitter. Because if you want to tweet anything he says — and use all those hashtags to be part of the stream — and use his Twitter name — you’re not going to have much room left!
I have a lot of sympathy for the organizers, in that there’s 100 zillion sessions going on, so making hashtags for all of them is tough. But if you’re going to do it, put hashtags out there, then do it right.
Ideas? My top-of-the-head tips:
Keep them short. That’s obvious
They don’t have to make sense. That algorithm session? The hashtag could have easily been something like #algosxsw or #sxsw23. I like the last one especially. You’re just looking for a way to consolidate all tweets from a particular session around a particular tag. Give them unique numbers!
They’re reusable. Hashtags don’t have to be unique for each event. If SXSW uses #sxsw23 this year, it can use it for a completely different session next year. Why? Because most hasttag searches, I’d wager, happen at the time a particular event is happening. No one’s going to see “old” information from #sxsw23 (if that’s what was used) when the latest one goes on.
That’s one reason why for my own Search Marketing Expo confernces, the hashtag we use is always #smx. Not #smxadvanced or #smx2010 or #smxwest. Just #smx. Usually, our shows are well spaced from each other. But we’ve even had shows in Sydney and Canada happen right at the same time, both using the same hashtag, without that much confusion. Being in different timezones, there wasn’t much overlap.
We don’t assign hashtags to particular sessions. That’s just felt like overkill to me. But we’ll have five sessions going on at the same time, so that might actually be good. If we do that in the future, I’ll go for following some of my own advice!