As I’ve mentioned before, hashtags are a powerful tool that allows Twitter users to track what many people (especially people whom you aren’t already following) are reporting or thinking about a particular topic or event.
Here’s the catch: Hashtags aren’t an officially supported Twitter service. They’re merely a convention that Twitter users have adopted on their own, within the 140-character text-only constraints of tweeting. So you can’t really “follow” hashtags through the main Twitter site.
Many third-party Twitter tools and services “play nice” with hashtags — but you must first know what these tools are and how to use them in order to get maximum value from hashtags.
This can lead to a bit of basic confusion, especially among people who are new to Twitter. Specifically, how exactly do you follow a hashtag?…
“So I just Twitter track #bisphenol and it will search for tweets with bisphenol? Where are instructions?”
I hear many similar questions. So let me use Pete’s example to show a few options for tracking Twitter hashtags…
YOU CANNOT “FOLLOW” A HASHTAG DIRECTLY THROUGH YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT
This is perhaps the most confusing point for people who are new to hashtags — but it’s important to understand. From your Twitter account you can only “follow” other Twitter users (accounts set up for an individual, organization, project, event, etc.). A hashtag is not a Twitter account that you can click a “follow” button for.
A hashtag is not a source of tweets. Rather, it’s a way to label (tag) tweets so they can be easily pulled together.
TWITTER SEARCH: EASIEST WAY TO TRACK HASHTAGS
Since a hashtag is nothing more than a character string inserted into a tweet, it’s something that you can search Twitter for. Therefore, the most basic way to track hashtags through your web browser is:
- Go to Twitter Search.
- Search for a hashtag you want to track. Include the “#” in your search query. Here’s a search for #bisphenol
- Keep that page open in a browser tab, and refresh it periodically to see the latest results. Or subscribe to the feed for your search in your feed reader, and check there occasionally for updates.
If I plan on only following a hashtag for a short time (up to a couple of hours), I usually just track it via twitter search. But for something I want to watch from several hours to a day or more, I used a different tool…
COLUMN-BASED TRACKING TOOLS
There are many, many third-party tools for using and monitoring Twitter. Several of these allow you to set up columns to track tweets based on search terms. One that I use quite often is Tweetdeck, a very slick Adobe AIR application that runs on your computer.
Tweetdeck allows you to configure up to 10 columns where you follow tweets according to criteria you specify. These can be all the people you follow on Twitter (your “friends”), or a subset of friends, or the ongoing results of a Twitter search. So if you search for #bisphenol via Tweetdeck, a column will appear showing all the latest tweets using that hashtag — and it will automatically update for you. You can add, delete, or reconfigure columns anytime you like.
There are also configurable web-based Twitter tracking tools like Monitter that offer similar capabilities. Personally I prefer Tweetdeck, but that’s just a matter of preference.
…So those are the bare basics for how to follow a hashtag. They’re definitely not the only options, but they’re some of the simplest. And if you want to look up what specific hashtags mean (or spread the word about a hashtag you launched or like), there are some hashtag glossaries that can help.