The Power of the Hashtag

I was at the Charisma Bootcamp conference last weekend, organised by Owen Fitzpatrick, it was absolutely brilliant and I have lots of content to share with you.  So why is this post about hashtags rather than charisma? Because there wasn’t one in use at the conference and I really missed it for a variety of reasons. I’m not saying that the absence of the hashtag affected the content of the conference in any way but one effect it had was it pushed me right outside my comfort zone.

What Is A Hashtag?

What is a hashtag?A hashtag is a word that is used after the symbol #. It can be used for a variety of reasons but it is generally used to bring attention to a particular topic and to unite tweeters.  Topics can trend on twitter depending on how often the word or hashtag is used.  You may often hear television presenters or radio DJs announcing what the hashtag is so that viewers can engage in an online conversation and provide feedback or questions to the producers, for example, #vinb for Tonight with Vincent Browne

hashtag is a word used to summarise the conference after this symbol # and if tweeters click on it, they can see all the tweets related to that hashtag. The conference organisers should test the hashtag beforehand (to ensure it isn’t been used for other purposes) and should announce it. We use #klck for all our KLCK meetings and for generating interest in the run up to our monthly meetings.

Using Hashtags At Conferences

I have been using hashtags frequently to promote upcoming conferences, to share the content at the conference with those who cannot be there and to connect with others at the conference.

As most of the recent conferences I’ve attended have been based on social media, a hashtag was provided and many of the delegates used it. Of last weekend’s conference, very few people were on twitter and of those, very few were tweeting.  I really missed the use of the hashtag. Why?

  • It was an excellent conference and I wanted to share some of the nuggets of wisdom with my followers.
  • I often use my tweets with hashtags as a form of note-taking to look back at later. 140 characters is perfect for notetaking.
  • However, as I was the only person using the hashtag I’d invented (I discovered later that two or three others had used a different hashtag and tweeted with it a few times), I felt I was tweeting in a vacuum, I really missed the engagement of seeing what other delegates thought of the presentations and how they were absorbing the content.
  • I had forgotten how shy I am and how difficult I find going up to strangers at coffee and making conversation. Given that the conference was about ‘charisma’ I guess we were supposed to be practising what we were learning by chatting to strangers but I had become so accustomed to making connections with other tweeters via the hashtag and then arranging to meet at coffee.
  • A hashtag creates rapport between people who are meeting for the first time – you gain a sense of the other person’s personality from their tweets and you know you have interests in common.
Previous posts on Why Tweet at Conferences and How to Tweet at Conferences  include many more reasons for using a hashtag at a conference and includes recommendations for some rules to follow.
I actually surprised myself by my shyness at this conference and I came to realise just how much I had come to rely on social media as an icebreaker at these events which perhaps show just how social media can help one to network.
As it was, I had to come out of my shell which I guess wasn’t a bad thing either.  As mentioned at the conference, some people would prefer death to speaking in public and the fear of rejection is paramount in most people. I’m fine with public speaking as long as I’m prepared but I am really nervous going up to people I don’t know to speak to them on a one to one. What do I think they are going to do to me? Ignore me? Act like I’m boring? Leave me stranded? Bore me? Be rude and not listen to me?  Of course not but yet that seed of doubt is there.
What do you think? Do you think hashtags help us to become more sociable or do we use them to hide behind and forget the more traditional way of making introductions.  After all, relying on hashtags to forge introductions means that I miss out on those people not on twitter.
Have you used hashtags at conferences or do you prefer to stick to the traditional note-taking with pen and paper?
More posts coming up on the Charisma Bootcamp – I have so much to share, I’ll be blogging every day for the next week! 🙂

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About Lorna

I'm a copywriter and social media consultant at, I teach social media online at and my personal blog Irish Farmerette recounts stories about life on a dairy farm in rural Ireland.

5 responses to “The Power of the Hashtag”

  1. Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) says :

    Lorna, you have really hit the nail on the head with this post on the value hashtags bring to conference attendees. Setting up a twitter hashtag for your event and encouraging attendees to tweet live from the event works to great effect – people love to tweet highlights of talks, photos of those present, the room, the speakers, everything they can. It creates a dynamic feel to your event. It is also a great tool for bringing on and off line audiences together. Your off-line audience get to follow along with the talks and the conversation and they can join in too by tweeting their own questions and comments (using the same hashtag). . Another great use of conference hashtags is the ability to curate the twitter conversation using a tool such as storify.It provides a good summary of the event and another way of networking during and after the event.

    • Lorna says :

      Great summary of the use of hashtags Marie and I love looking back at storify too after a conference. I’d love if you did a post on it sometime too.

  2. Smart Solutions (@smartsols_ie) says :

    Hi Lorna,
    Very appropriate topic – the mixture of socially engaging and attending a conference.
    Most socially connected conferences provide nuggets of important information and “take-aways” for all. And it’s easy and great to share these online (via twitter, hashtags, etc). Certain conferences are to provide personal and professional development, and certainly from personal experience of attending these events, one needs to be “present” to really benefit from the content.

    Using 140 characters is a great way to take notes, however, when I attend these events as an organiser, I can only be wholly present to socially share the content, make notes, keep an eye on the presenters, look after heating, projectors, tweet, take photos, keep out unsavouries etc etc. Interestingly, I miss a lot of the content as I am not “present” Of course, I have a job to do, and can look back on the tweets and hashtags to review some of the content.

    On the other hand, as an attendee, I have attempted to socially share content and snippets online, and to be honest, it’s hard to be really “present” then, especially when the content is intense and of personal or professional development content.

    Imagine tweeting away at a time management course, or Managing your Business course, now that would be ironic.

    Conferences, by nature are not meant to be wholly learning, but include networking, sharing etc. This seemed plausible for the one you attended. The irony for me was that the organisers were very pro-active about promoting the conference on the website, blog, twitter, and an abundance of youtube videos. It would have been so easy to assign a hashtag, and encourage it’s use during the event – missed opportunity I reckon.

    Last point, at least it created awareness around your own system of networking, and you can now build on improving this 🙂

    • Lorna says :

      Wow, thank you for such an engaged comment, Elaine. I totally agree that you can miss some of those nuggets of wisdom yourself if you are multi-tasking and I find that I tweet more when the presentation isn’t quite as interesting as I would like. The organisers did make the point that they wanted people to be fully present and I did find (apart from giving up on tweeting as no one else was using the hashtag) that I didn’t have the concentration to tweet effectively as well as listen and absorb – as it does take more concentration to write an articulate tweet than simply note take in a notebook.
      Hashtags definitely have a place to play at conferences, it is just important not to let them take over I think and take from your engagement with the content.

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  1. The Value of Twitter at Conferences « Write On Track - July 13, 2012

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