I only recently took the time to experiment with Twitter. "The question has always been, how do I get value from Twitter ?"
The reason it has taken me so long is I WILL NOT TWEET MY EVERY MOVE / THOUGHT / DIATRIBE / etc. Further, I really don’t what to listen to others’ every move / thought / diatribe / etc. And on the surface, *that* is exactly what Twitter seems to be.
So what is Twitter ? It’s nothing more and nothing less than a short messaging service.
What makes Twitter interesting is *how* people use Twitter. Yes, there are those that tweet (the act of sending a short message through Twitter) verbal diarrhea. There are also those who use Twitter as self promotion (where ‘self’ is either the individual or the company). There are also those who use it an an intelligent pub/sub infrastructure. The unique bit is that Twitter itself has almost none of the intelligence – it is how people use Twitter and how they have developed clients and tools that leverage Twitter that is interesting. One of the most powerful of this is the ‘hashtag" …
Once you’ve started using Twitter, it won’t take long before you come across what’s known as a hash tag. That’s when you see something in a tweet that has a # prefix. (The # is a hash symbol, hence the term hash tag or hashtag.)
For example, if you’ve seen tweets related to the recent U.S. government stimulus bill, you may have noticed some of them had #stimulus in them.
It took me a while to wrap my head around what the purpose of this thing was but, once I “got it,” I realized it’s not as complicated as it seems.
A hash tag is simply a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. For example, if you search on #LOST (or #Lost or #lost, because it’s not case-sensitive), you’ll get a list of tweets related to the TV show. What you won’t get are tweets that say “I lost my wallet yesterday” because “lost” isn’t preceded by the hash tag.
It is the "search" aspect of hashtags that is so powerful. You do not need to "follow" every user and you do not need to read every tweet. You find (or create) a hashtag that relates to a topic of interest and you "subscribe" to it. Most Twitter clients let you create persistent searches. In this way, you do not need to know all of the user who are discussing a topic, you just need to know the hashtag for that topic.
… hash tags are NOT any kind of official Twitter function. The company has not created a list of topics that we can browse through to see if there’s one that interests us … any user can create one simply by adding it to their own tweet.
For example, when the plane went down in the Hudson River some Twitter user wrote a post and added #flight1549 to it … somebody else read it and when he posted something about the incident, added #flight1549 to *HIS* tweet. it didn’t take long for this hash tag to go viral … it’s a very organic process.
[Before creating a new hashtag] The first thing I would do is a basic Twitter search on the term itself so I can see if someone’s already created a related hash tag. Before you create your own tag, you might want to search on a few variations to make sure they don’t already exist.
Source: The Twitter Hash Tag: What Is It and How Do You Use It?
I only follow a small number of people but I have hashtag searches on a number of topics and it is the tweets on those specific topics that provide the value. Not only can I learn about the topic, I can also ask questions to "the community" (regardless of who that may be). In my first few examples of asking questions I had multiple good answers in a matter of seconds! The power of a huge network of people, connected by a simple messaging service.