Shadi Rahimi thinks an awful lot about #.
She is the deputy producer of engagement for Al Jazeera’s new social media and mobile-first project known as AJ+. She wrote an enlightening post for Poynter this week on a subject I have always found a bit vexing: hashtags.
Hashtags, of course, are a way to classify social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere that creates groups or strings of content that are searchable to anyone wanting to follow a particular conversation. Think #BlackLivesMatter. Rahimi traces the art form all the way back to 2007. We’re talkin’ pre-Snapchat! Now she wonders aloud whether the convention has run its course.
As with so many things, we in the legacy media are partially to blame for the demise of a good thing, apparently. That’s because we jumped into the hashtag game without really knowing what we were doing. We use them because we think we are being ironic (#sorrynotsorry) or just throw 10 of them at the end of a post hoping to catch as many eyes as possible.
Rahimi argues persuasively that overuse and misuse has made them harder to use and also less effective. They are no guarantee of engagement, particularly for lesser stories. Your locally generated hashtag or own invention is likely to be a waste of characters. …
She also talks a bit about the etiquette of it all and I think that is important to note. Say, as she does, that you want to get in on the conversation about the Freddie Gray shooting in Baltimore. Should a news organization use #BaltimoreUprising since that is where the people are, or does that suggest some sympathy for one “side” of the conversation? She suggests using these opinionated hashtags at the end of your tweet rather than incorporating them into your prose. But she notes, “Most don’t read deeply into tweet structure.”
As I said, she thinks about these things.
Perhaps we should all think a little more about them. We work with hashtags with varying degrees of sophistication and I cop to being one of the least sophisticated users in the company. It’s never too late to learn the medium even if the conventions change.