Twitter’s hashtags have become an essential tool. Conference organizers use them to expand their reach. Communities use them to track natural disasters. And of course, protesters use them to tell the world what they’re doing and what their governments are doing back. It’s no surprise then that spammers also use them to hit eyeballs and push their dodgy goods, and that the most popular trending topics always seem to be light and breezy: three things to say after sex tends to pop up a lot and everyone always seems keen to announce what they’re listening to right now. But essentially, hashtags are a way for Twitter’s users to organize the information they’re producing on the site. They’re a means of categorization, allowing anyone to find the data they’re looking for without wasting hours sorting through irrelevant posts. In other words, hashtags are efficiency tools. So how else can you use them to improve your productivity and cut back on wasted time?
The easiest way to use hashtags for productivity is to identify the tags that are most relevant to you and create a series of saved searches from your Twitter page. You won’t need to do more than click the tag to bring up a list of the latest results so you’ll even save the time it takes to type the hashtag into the search field. First though, you’d need to know which tags you need to be looking for. Directories like Twubs and wikis like What The Trend can tell you what the different tags mean, and Brizzly, a social media platform, provides a little explanation together with each trending topic. But in practice you’re unlikely to need them. As you follow people you find interesting on Twitter, you’ll naturally come across hashtags that your community is using. Save the most common terms, create a relevant list, and you might just be able to cut down on the time spent checking Twitter for interesting tweets. Those hashtag links will bring up the best tweets on your topic right away.
Categorize Your Tweets
Saving hashtag searches will help you to quickly find tweets that have already been categorized by others. But hashtags can also be a good way to categorize your own tweets. It doesn’t matter whether other people use those hashtags or not –- in fact, you don’t want people to use them. You want to create a system that allows you to pull up a list of the tweets you’ve posted that fit a particular category.
The #quote tag, for example, is used by people who like to toss inspiring quotes into their timelines, an easy way for people who have nothing interesting to say themselves to add new content and win retweets. Create a unique tag for your own quotes and place it in your tweets in addition to the #quote tag, something like #[username]qts, and not only will you turn up when someone searches for quotes, but you’ll also be able to quickly pull up a list of your own tweeted quotes. While it might not make the most exciting reading, it will at least ensure that you don’t tweet the same quote twice and it will help you to figure out what kind of quote you might want to include next.
For other kinds of tweets, categorization by hashtag will let you keep track of your posts in the same way that categories let you group posts on blogs. Replies could have one kind of tag, tweets about your business another, tweets about your blog a third kind, and tweets about your product a fourth tag. Include the occasional tweet listing the tags you’re using and you’ll help your new readers to find old posts they might have missed. And by calling up posts that use those tags you’ll be able to see which kind of tweets you should be tweeting next.
Categorize Other People’s Tweets
That’s particularly important when it comes to Twitter-based conversations. You can’t categorize other people’s tweets, and while you can favorite them, that only gives one overall category for the tweets you’ve found important enough to answer. Fave all the tweets you’ve replied to and, if you’re chatty – as you should be on Twitter — you’ll struggle to find old posts that caught your eye. You’ll have the same fight flicking through your own replies to see the posts you were replying to.
Include a hashtag in your replies though and you’ll create a layer of categorization beneath “favorites” and “replies.” You’ll be categorizing your own replies but more importantly, because you can click through to see the tweet you replied to, you’ll also be able to categorize other people’s tweets that have caught your eye. Using the hashtag #replyblog, for example, will let you find the conversations that you’ve had about blogging.
And there is one more way that hashtags can improve your productivity. They can stop you using Twitter so much. One of the reasons that Twitter is such a time-waster is that you never what kind of post is going to be coming up next. You don’t know if those “2 new tweets” are going to be something important, relevant and unmissable, something fun and entertaining, or something pointless and dull that makes you wonder whether it isn’t time to unfollow. Restrict your tweet-reading to hashtags on a service like TweetGrid or TweetDeck and you’ll only be getting information that you know you want. You’ll also be getting a lot less information overall.
Most productivity systems are centered on categorizations, whether that’s in the form of multiple to-do lists or the 43 folders of Getting Things Done. Twitter’s hashtags make it possible to add multiple category levels to your own tweets, allowing you to keep track of the information you’ve posted in the past, as well as find relevant data that other people have tweeted too. Lists might not have taken off on Twitter but with a little creativity, you should find that smart hashtagging can save you time, keep your reading relevant and improve the way you keep track of track of Twitter’s communications.