Having a conversation on Twitter is like gabbing in the front row of a rock concert. You have to yell to be heard, and that annoys everyone around you. Yet for some reason, people engage in hashtag chats on Twitter. Hashtag chats are not only rude, they're unnecessary. There are far better alternatives.
Hashtag chats are often thrown by marketers who think it's a super-fun way for “people” to “engage” with their “favorite” “brands.” They're also used for regular get-togethers like #wjchat or #educhat, usually around professional topics. Conferences use them to bring together participants, and publications use them to drum up discussion around articles.
This has got to stop.
Problems With Hashtag Chats
Let me count the ways that hashtag chats are wrong.
As if 140 characters weren’t a stringent enough a limit on verbal expression, the hashtag takes up more room. If you’re going to address someone in particular — instead of just shouting opinions without listening, like most hashtag chat participants do — the names take up even more room. Maybe you can squeeze in a complete sentence, provided you btchr the Eng lang a littl bt.
Sounds like tons of fun already, doesn’t it?
To follow a hashtag chat, you have to watch the hashtag, which is really just a real-time search for all tweets containing the tag. That means responses just fly in in whatever order they’re sent. There’s no structure to it.
If you want to see responses in a threaded order, you have to click to expand them (before they wash away in the storm of incoming tweets), and hope that everyone clicked ‘reply’ and formatted the tweet properly so Twitter will show the whole thread.
How often do you think that works out?
Worst of all, there’s the noise pollution. If your followers are smart, they’re using Tweetbot or some other third-party Twitter client that allows muting of hashtags, as long as Twitter allows these apps to exist. That way, as long as you tag your tweets properly, people can tune out conversations they don’t want to read.
They probably aren’t, though, and Twitter’s official clients don’t allow hashtag muting. So if you’re participating in a hashtag chat, you’d better hope everyone who follows you cares.
And then there’s spam. It’s commonplace for active hashtags to be overrun by Markov chain spambots that instantly render them useless, posting porn, phishing people’s accounts, and generally ruining the party. Too bad about your “brand.”
See also: What Is The Point Of: #Hashtags?
The Solution To Hashtag Chats
Let’s take it as given that you want to have a conversation with people on Twitter, so it’s not helpful to say “use Google+.” And Google+ has its own problems. You think conversations with people who can only write in 140 characters are bad? Try conversations with people who can write as much as they want.
The real solution to hashtag chats will be Branch. This is exactly what Branch is for. You branch off an idea and have a preserved, threaded conversation about it, using Twitter as your login and identity. Participation in a branch is by invitation, so it’s not a free-for-all, which you may see as a drawback (yes, marketers, I'm talking to you). But it’s easy enough to moderate invitation requests. It’s impossible to moderate a chaotic torrent of tweets.
See also: What Is The Point Of: Branch?
Branch isn’t open to everyone yet, unfortunately, but when it is, it’ll save us. Libby Brittain, who oversees content at Branch, says that hashtag chat fans have been a hard sell. Sounds like Stockholm syndrome to me. Hashtag chats are terrible. Is there an argument in their favor? If so, I doubt it's convincing to someone who's tried Branch.
If you don’t have access to Branch yet, you might try Storify. It’s not really a conversation tool, but you can at least use it to impose order on unruly social media situations by picking out and rearranging the best responses. If you keep pointing people to the Storify post, they’ll have something to refer to while they participate.
Just don’t use hashtags to carry on your conversations. That’s not what they’re for.
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