March 28, 2013
Twitter users add “hashtags” to their messages thinking they’ll join a stream on the same topic and therefore find a wider audience. But it’s unlikely that using hashtags achieves those results, especially for the most popular topics, says the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.
According to Twitter, the hashtag “#SuperBowl” was used 3 million times over about five hours on Super Bowl Sunday this year, an average of 167 tweets per second. At that rate, users had 1/17 of a second to find any given tweet, which Nieman likens to a single drop of water screaming for attention as it rushes over Niagara Falls. Even worse for Twitter users hoping to gain a larger audience, the default view for search results shows “Top” tweets, based on a formula that favors messages and users that have already gained a following.
Hashtags can be useful for gathering messages from small groups of people — at a conference, for example. But in most cases they’re ineffective, and with their jarring blue characters, aesthetically damaging. A tweet that’s free of hashtags is more pleasing to the eye, more easily consumed, and thus more likely to be re-tweeted. For every person who stumbles upon a tweet via hashtag, many more are likely to be put off by hashtag overuse. — Greg Beaubien