Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake on hashtags

In this sketch, Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon play two people speaking to each other in person as obnoxiously as they would on social media by inserting ridiculous hashtags into their conversation. They are attempting to be amusing -- a very common phenomenon on social media. These two also say the word "hashtag," which, I've learned, is also a thing now (smacks forehead).

#dontmindifIdont #getmycookieon #Ididitallforthecookie #quackquack

This sketch is hilarious and brilliant because it demonstrates that many people use absurd hashtags thinking they are being clever and engaging, made evident by their smug attitude and the cocky content and intention of their hashtags, but they are not being funny or smart at all. I'm sure many viewers also found this sketch funny because they realized, "I Tweet like that. It's actually stupid. What was I thinking?" This kind of hashtag use isn't just obnoxious because it's neither clever nor amusing; it also doesn't make sense.

Many people seem to have interpreted this sketch as criticizing hashtags in general, or that it's confirmation that hashtags are stupid. I'd like to debunk this right now and say that Jimmy and Justin are making fun of absurd, excessive hashtag use that serves no purpose. I think they're making fun of people who use hashtags without understanding their purpose and to try to be cool.

The purpose of hashtags is to target. It's a research (clicking the hashtag) and networking (using the hashtag) tool. When you click on a hashtag, it shows you every post that includes this hashtag. It functions basically as a keyword, but without irrelevant things to sift through.

When hashtags are used correctly, they build incredible communities. Just look at the variety of Twitter chats, for example, such as #blogchat. Type or click #blogchat at 9 pm Eastern on Sundays and you can chat with hundreds of people live. Most conferences and major events like awards shows have designated hashtags to connect people and share ideas with those who would be interested. Social movements also have their own hashtags. The breast cancer community's #bcsm (an acronym for breast cancer social media) has vibrant discussions about the appropriation of their disease and inadequacies in research, among other things.

The hashtag makes all this possible.

It's clear that many who use hashtags are not using them to connect with people. The phenomenon of people using hashtags without purpose or research. I sincerely doubt that anyone searches for #dontmindifIdont, as there would be no purpose to this. And if you search that hashtag on Twitter, there's no consistency or quality to the Tweets that include it. BUT, the thing with a popular hashtag like #dontmindifIdont is just that: it's popular. When you use it, it does give you some visibility (if people actually click it -- which I'm sure most don't.) It's just not targeted, useful visibility, so it's neither a strategic nor a research and relationship building tool.

"Don't mind if I don't" is probably popular because it's a saying, albeit, in my opinion, a stupid one. I scrolled way down after searching this hashtag on Twitter and found it was used months before the Jimmy Fallon sketch aired. But lots of people make up hashtags on the fly, that aren't based on a saying. Either way, it doesn't work and it's really annoying.

Making a hashtag popular or building a hashtag community takes an incredible amount of power, skill, work and collaboration.

So how do you figure out if a hashtag is worth using? Click it or enter what you'd like to use into the search field. Are other people using it and for what purpose? Click these people's profiles and look at their feeds. Would you like to connect with them? This research is also important to make sure that your Tweets with that hashtag are relevant and useful to the communities using them.

Please Tweet wisely.

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