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Twitter Event Hashtagging Strategies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 Oct 2009


In a recent post on the eFoundation’s blog Andy Powell wrote about “Flocking behaviour – why Twitter is for starlings, not buzzards“. Based on the statistics I had provided for use of  Twitter at the recent ALT C 2009 conference Andy picked up on the use of two tags (#altc2009 and #altc09) and pointed out that “if you don’t tweet using the generally agreed tag you are effectively invisible to much of the conference audience“.

I agree – so there’s probably a need to agree on  hashtagging strategies for events, which I’ll explore in this post. And I’ll use this as an opportunity to consider what hashtag UKOLN should be using for next year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2010).

Issues To Consider

What are the issues to consider when selecting a hashtag for use at an event?

Being brief
The initial requirement is that as tweets are limited to 140 characters,  hashtags should be brief in order to maximise the amount of content that can be containing in a tweet about an event.
Avoiding problems with non-alpha-numeric characters
It may be felt desirable to avoid use of certain non-alphanumeric characters which may cause problems in some Twitter clients.  For example, the hashtag #clip2.0 was initially suggested for an event on the relevance of Web 2.0 technologies for the CILIP organisation and CILIP members. However Twitter clients seem to truncate hashtags containing a full stop, so the hashtag #cilip2 was used. Similar problems have been observed with use of a dash (-) as illustrated in the display of a tweet in the TweetDeck client. In addition there was a complaint that use of an underscore (_) in the #cilip_lams event caused usability problems, especially on mobile devices. The advice would seem to be stick with alphanumeric characters in hashtags.
Avoid numbers at the start of hashtags
Hashtags which begin with a number (e.g. #2009foo ) are believed to cause hyperlinking problems in some clients.
Should you be consistent with other tagging services?
Although those who make intensive use of Twitter may feel that the first two points are all that need to be considered when formulating a hashtag for an event, there may be an argument for being consistent with recommendations for tags using in other environments such as other Flickr, YouTube, etc. These services do not suffer for the length constraints imposed by Twitter and so can provide more flexibility. There may be an argument for using a Twitter-safe hashtag in these other services, but what if these other services are the more widely-used services (e.g. events with an established use of Flickr)?
Should the year be included?
Many of the events I’ve attended or followed on Twitter have included the year in the hashtag (e.g. #iwmw2009, #altc2009 and #solo09) but some have not (#alpsp and #cilip_lams). Does the year have to be included, especially as the tweets will be readily accessible via the Twitter search APIs for only a short period?  But might a decision to save space by omitting the year cause problems if the Twitter API changes or other tools are used? And might this cause additional confusions with tags for which date encoding may be useful.
One hashtag or several?
If there are multiple events associated with a main event (e.g. pre-conference workshops or fringe events) you will need to consider whether to recommend use of the main event hashtag for these peripheral events or to suggest an alternative hashtag.
Branding issues
There may be pressure to ensure that an event hasthtag provides the correct branding for the organising bodies. The hashtag for the CILIP’s Umbrella 2009 conference, for example, was #cilipumbrella.
Multi-lingual issues
Welsh institutions  may need to consider use of bilingual hashtags. Note, for example, that for the CILIP Wales 2009 conference the conference hashtag was cilip-cymru09. I should add, however, that I haven’t any experience of the implications of use of non Latin characters (ironically, as Im (sic) typing this sentence on a Croatian keyboard and cant find the single quote character!)
Being memorable
Perhaps because I’m getting older I am finding it difficult to remember random strings of characters – so I wouldn’t appreciate a tag such as #xuj740n9 (having to re-authenticate a username and password with a similar pattern can also be irritating). I found the hashtags used for the recent Oxford Social Media Conference (#oxsmc09) and Science Online London (#solo09) events easy to remember  as the conference names themselves were memorable.
Being different
Having an event hashtag which could clashes with other hashtags is likely to lead to confusion.
Avoiding ambiguities in the characters
Many years ago I was an information officer and I was very aware of the need to avoid confusions between characters such as 1 and i and o and 0 (in some fonts these many be indistinguishable). Note that this may be very relevant for events held next year. The (fictitious) Input Output’s annual conference hashtag #io10 could be particularly confusing depending on the font used on your computer.
Being timely and promoting the hashtag effectively
As mentioned recently, it is important to finalise a hashtag in advance of the event and to ensure that participants and other interested parties are aware of the official hashtag for the event. In many cases participants are likely to tweet about an event prior to the event, perhaps when a call for paper has been published e.g. “Looking for partners to write a proposal for #altc2010 with“.
Obtaining buy-in from users of the tag
As it is not possible to mandate use of an official event hashtag you should seek to ensure that users of the tag will be inclined to use the hashtag. If the hashtag is too long the users may choose to use a shorter one.
Explaining the tag
As well as promoting the hashtag to the event participants you should also try to ensure that other interested parties, who perhaps might notice a stream of tweets with the tag, can easily discover more about the associated event.  One way of doing this might be to ensure that a Web page containing details of the hashtag and the event is published early so that it may be indexed by Google. In addition it may be useful to describe the event in Twitter aggregation services such as WThashtag (e.g. see the description for the IWMW 2009 event).

#iwmw2010, #iwmw10, #iwmw – or something else?

This post has described some of the issues which should be considered when choosing an event hashtag. But to put such discussions into context, I’d like to consider the hashtag UKOLN should be using for next year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2010) – the fourteenth in this series of annual events for members of institutional Web management teams.

I’ve recently attended four events which had a Twitter hashtag, each of which took a different approach: #altc2009, #techshare09, #alpsp and #cilip_lams.

As there aren’t pressures to brand our host institution, UKOLN, there’s no need for a ‘#ukoln_iwmw” style tag. The options, and arguments for and against, are therefore:

For:  Consistency with previous years and consistency with tags used in Flickr, YouTube, etc. Also consistency with URL used on UKOLN Web site.
Against: Uses 9 characters – this could be shorter.

For: Saves two characters over #iwmw2010.
Against: Loses consistency with previous years and with other tag services. Possible confusion over the characters (could it be confused with #iwmwi0?)

For: Saves four characters over #iwmw2010. No confusion with the ’10’ characters.
Against: Loses consistency with previous years and with other tag services. Loss of the date may cause problems if data is to be used in content of other years (but not necessarily so as the tweets do have a machine-readable date)

What do you think we should go for? And are there other issues one should consider when choosing a hashtag for an event which I haven’t mentioned?

14 Responses to “Twitter Event Hashtagging Strategies”

  1. Nick Sharratt said

    IMO for Twitter, length issue trumps all others, I’d opt for the shortest option, especially as the date is available for each tweet for context anyhow. I’d use the sane for flickr etc too and use 2 separate tags to include the year if felt necessary.

    I was surprised #altc2009 managed to dominate the use over #altc09 or just #altc as I expected ‘the crowd’ to have it’s own idea regardless of the official instruction, but the fact it did perhaps says something important about the behaviour of flocks…that they tend to stick together once established, so enphasising the importance to announce any ‘official tag’ as early as possible or else risk missing the boat and never turning the tide?

  2. […] […]

  3. […] […]

  4. Gill Ferrell said

    Useful and much needed guidance – thanks. It is also worth reminding people that hashtags only remain searchable via Twitter for a short period of time. Maybe you could add some recommendations on the best way for event organisers to maintain the visibility of past dialogue where this might be useful either as a record or as a means of giving pepple a flavour of the exchanges and encouraging them to participate.

  5. AM Doherty said

    The advice on special characters, ambiguity, branding concerns, and mobile device issues is great to see in a single post, expect some RTs.

    As Gill Ferrell stated tweets are as temporally fragile as the events we use them to re-present, which works to the advantage of the chosen hashtag in that only recent event usage of the ‘tag will be present and searchable form Twitter. No clash with previous years, no problem.

    Prompt archiving crystallises the event Tweets which can be presented as site content later on, for as long as required, and the tag lies dormant for another year.

    Keeping with the same hashtag across multiple years should aid the signification of previously interested parties who have retained the saved search, the aggregated feed or the memory of the hashtag used.

    Site tagging (Flickr et cetera) could perhaps be handled by embedding and promoting links to such content organised most-recent-first.

    All this would support the use of the shortest ‘tag, and negate the requirement for a year suffix.

  6. Joanna Ptolomey said

    Thanks I found this useful. I have been following events using hashtags, but was not sure of protocol for developing one. Cheers!

  7. paulmilne said

    Hi Brian. As a long-time attendee of IWMW, I would suggest going for the shortest option, #iwmw, for all the reasons suggested, and one more – if we are going to carry on using multiple hashtags for events within the event, such as parallel sessions, then each hashtag should be as short as possible. It’s quicker to reference #iwmw #p1 than #iwmw2010 #p1 for example.

  8. What did Churchill say? “Never was so much said about so few characters by so…” – something like that!

    Note that my use of “generally agreed tag” (in the first paragraph above) doesn’t necessarily imply that we need “to agree on hashtagging strategies for events” since tags can, and do, emerge spontaneously as part of flocking behaviour. That said, event organisers do have a lot of control over what tag gets used and I think that, in general, your advice is pretty good.

    Re: “Explaining the tag” – I would add that making sure your recommended tag also appears somewhere in the event URL is a big help in tying stuff together before, during and after the event.

    As to IWMW 2010, my inclination would be to go for #iwmw10, on the basis that 1) 4-digit years seem unnecessarily wasteful (of a whole 2 characters!) but that 2-digits are helpful and 2) although consistency with previous years carries some weight, if you are going to change to 2-digit years, then doing so sooner rather than later is better! (Not sure if that actually makes any sense??)

  9. We’ve designated #ili2009 for Internet Librarian International next week, in hopes that if we publicise it sufficiently, everybody will opt for that rather than the (slightly) shorter #ili09. Maybe next year we should revisit this and possibly use #ili10.

  10. Meg Hasten said

    Great technical tips–thanks!

  11. Nicole Harris said

    The only thing i would add is the importance of the use of the tag outside of twitter. It can be used in a variety of media (i.e. tagging stuff in flickr, general advertising etc.) so I think it needs to work in a variety of contexts, some of which are longer lived than twitter. For this reason, i think it is very important to include a two-digit date in the tag.

  12. […] promote your conference on Twitter before and after the event using a hashtag (info on choosing a good hashtag can be found here) […]

  13. […] Vía:  UK Web Focus […]

  14. […] an event hashtag and publicise it: As described in a blog post entitled Twitter Event Hashtagging Strategies you should first agree on a tag (known in Twitter as a hashtag as the tag is prefixed with a […]

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