When people use Twitter they are increasingly using hashtags to group their tweets with others tweeting about a similar theme, for example popular tags include #nonprofit, #FollowFriday (often just #FF these days), and #climatechange.
Perhaps the most successful public sector use of a hashtag in the UK is #testittuesday, a tag that has been adopted by many of the Fire and Rescue Services to encourage people to test their smoke alarms. (BTW I warmly encourage any tweeters out there to ReTweet #testittuesday when they see it AND to test their alarms).
One interesting challenge with hashtags was illustrated with the tag #mr which was for a time used by the market research industry. There were two problems with the #mr tag, 1) it was also used by people into some form of gangster talk, which included an unpleasant amount of misogyny, 2) a number of supply companies started to tweet spam using the #mr tag. At the moment both problems have been dealt with by the use of a #mrx tag for general market research and #newmr for the cutting edge stuff.
A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a really interesting team of people from South Wales Police who are developing some innovative social media approaches including the use of Twitter. The obvious tag for grouping tweets about the police is #police, however the majority of tweets using this tag are from too far away South Wales to be of regular interest, indeed often from the USA. So South Wales are trialling the use of the tag #heddlu, which is Welsh for police. So far, this seems to be working well for them, but real success will be if other local bodies, especially other local police forces such as Gwent Police, adopt a similar strategy.
Hashtags are still relatively young and the way they are being used is evolving, but I suspect that we will see a range of interesting strategies developed to help organisations cut through the noise to reach people who want to be reached. In many ways effective use of Twitter comes back to Seth Godin’s principle of permission marketing, we are trying to reach the people who want to be reached and trying not to annoy the people who do not want to be reached (spammers are you listening?)