#Whattheheck are #hashtags and how should you be using them?


Hashtags started life on Twitter, as a way for people to find tweets on a specific topic. A kind of search tool, if you like. The habit caught on and hashtags are now routinely used to organise conversations around a specific topic or event. This might be anything from a scheduled Twitter Chat, to a news story, sports event or a conference – you name it.

You’ve probably seen them on your TV screen when a show is on – #poldark for example. When you see a hashtagged word like that, it means ‘follow this hashtag on your social platform of choice to see and join in the conversations going on around it.’ And it’s not just Twitter these days – hashtags are used on most social platforms.

poldark hashtag

Event organisers routinely use them to facilitate attendees connecting with one another, before, during and after the event. I’ve experienced this often – if you go to an event where you don’t know anyone, you can identify other attendees by their tweets using the event hashtag. It’s a useful ice breaker.

conference tweets hashtags

Hashtags are great for following topics long-term. For example, I have a permanent stream set up on my Hootsuite to monitor the hashtag #poetry, and another for #writetip. You can join in by using established hashtags in your own updates – it brings you to the attention of others following that hashtag.

Think about it – without any filtering, your Twitter stream is a hosepipe of updates on every subject possible. How do you get to see the updates you’re interested in? How do you join an existing conversation around a topic? How do you find other people interested in the same topics as you? One answer is to follow a hashtag.

How to follow a hashtag

When you attach a hashtag (#) to the front of a word (or phrase, but with no spaces) on Twitter or Facebook, it’s turned into a hyperlink, meaning it’s clickable. When you click on it, you’re presented with all the updates containing that hashtag. This includes upates from people you’re not following, and this is important: hashtags don’t just filter your home stream, they are a way of connecting with other people using the same hashtag – whose updates you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Facebook hashtag search

If you’re using Twitter on the web, click on a hashtag and you’ll see all the tweets using that hashtag – but you also have a number of choices on the left hand side of the page – the default is ‘Everything’, but you can search for just people, videos, news stories etc or even more specific criteria in an ‘advanced’ search.

hashtag search on Twitter.com

If you want to save a search, hit ‘save’ (top right of search results column) and you can return to it anytime but clicking inside the Twitter search box – a list of your saved searches will come up, just click on the one you want to retrieve.

Another neat thing you can do is to embed your search results in a Twitter widget on your blog’s sidebar. You might want to do this, for example, if you’ve created a hashtag for your new book release, or are attending or promoting an event, or involved in a news story, and you want your blog visitors to see the conversation.

Click on the three little dots top left of the search column and you’ll be prompted to ’embed this search’. This takes you to a screen where you can customise your widget.

Create twitter search widget

I’m often asked if hashtags are ‘governed’ in any way. Can anyone create a hashtag? What if it’s been ‘taken’?

The answer is it’s a free-for-all, in that anyone can create a hashtag, and if it’s already in use then that’s your lookout! It’s best to check first by doing a search on your chosen hashtag.

Something that can be an issue is multiple hashtags for the same thing, which results in a number of parallel conversations – not ideal. This is why TV companies, publishers and event organisers often make an effort to promote the ‘official’ hashtag, before too many unauthorised versions come into play.

If you do create a hashtag and want people to use it then you have to encourage take up – by using it frequently, attaching it to relevant retweets and so forth. It’s a good idea to keep your hashtags short if possible, allowing space for retweet, otherwise they may get cut. This is also a good reason not to use TOO many hashtags in one update. Using more than one is fine, but if they’re long they don’t leave much room for anything else. Hashtags stand out as links, and can add interest to a tweet in the same way that regular links do – research suggests that updates containing links (including hashtag links) get shared more than those without any links.

Another way you sometimes see hashtags used is as a sort of ironic comment, or as a way of getting a point across, or being funny – such as #whatwashethinking or #lazyediting. These kinds of hashtags tend not have much of a shelf life and are really just created as one-offs, for effect. Of course, sometimes they catch on – you just never know!

Social media Q & A with author & poet Claire Dyer


This is the first of a new series of blog posts in which I ask writers questions about how they use social media.

Claire Dyer novelist & poet - homepage

Claire Dyer is a novelist and poet, with two novels and a poetry collection to her name. Her website clairedyer.com combines a blog with details of her published work, what she’s reading and where she’s appearing. She also displays her Twitter feed.

I first met Claire at a magazine launch at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford – she is widely published in poetry magazines – and I was interested to hear how she approaches social media.

Tell us about your blog…

My blog is part of my main website and can be found here…

I blog when I have something to say about my writing, other people’s writing, the writing life or just to say how nice or difficult the whole business of writing is!

How often do you update it?

Roughly every 4 to 6 weeks, although I haven’t updated it for a while just recently (I blame Christmas!)

What do you do if you’re too busy to blog?

I pop stuff on Facebook (my personal and Author pages) and Twitter. I also use Pinterest but not very regularly.

Do you follow other blogs, and if so, how? (eg by email, in a reader etc)

Yes, I’ve signed up for a couple (by email) but normally just keep a watch out for interesting blogs by people I admire and will retweet or share them when I can. I have made a private list of ‘People who Tweet Interesting Things’ on Twitter which I monitor so often discover blogs there.

Tell us a bit more about how you use Twitter and other social media platforms …

Claire Dyer on Twitter

I regularly use Facebook and Twitter and try and steer the tricky line between being ‘Claire Dyer the person’ and ‘Claire Dyer the writer’. What I’ve found is that the private and public sides to being a writer are very different and it’s not always easy to manage this in the right way. Someone once told me that using social media is like being at a party so it’s not a good idea to arrive, shout out your own news and not listen to others’. Therefore my guiding principles are to be interested in other people, be supportive of their initiatives, be funny, not moan too much and let people know what I’m up to but not in a pushy way.

How do you manage the time you spend on social media – do you have any rules or tricks, and do you use a social media dashboard eg Hootsuite or Tweetdeck?

I mostly use my ‘People who Tweet Interesting Things’ list on Twitter. I belong to a number of Facebook Groups so that’s helpful in tracking what’s going on but usually I dip in and out so do risk missing things. A friend did mention TweetDeck to me but I haven’t managed to get my head round downloading it yet!

How do you balance social media activity with your actual writing – do you have any rules you abide by, or any tips/advice you would give to other writers?

Log out of Facebook and Twitter when writing otherwise you WILL get distracted!

Some people find social media stressful. What do you most like about it what do you most dislike?

I love social media when it’s positive and supportive and when it serves to disseminate news and information. I do, however, find it hard to deal with it when it is used for negative reasons or when an online discussion gets personal. My tenet is that if I don’t have something nice to say, keep quiet!

Claire’s latest novel is available in paperback and as an e-book, The Perfect Affair – it’s been described as ‘A beautifully told, absorbing romance,’ by the Sunday Mirror, and it’s currently a Sainsbury’s Winter Read.

You can find out more about Claire and her books on her website and blog, via her Amazon Author Page, on Facebook, on Twitter and on her Goodreads Author Page.

Improve your social web presence – for writers


This coming Saturday I’m in Brighton at New Writing South running a one-day workshop on ‘Improving your social web presence’.

I know that there are readers of this blog and of my email newsletter who have already been on one of the three-evening courses I’ve run for NWS in the past. I’ve already been asked ‘will I learn anything new if I come along to this one-day course?’

The short answer to this is ‘possibly not’ – but it depends on whether you’ve put into practice what we covered on the previous course.

But I know how it often goes – you finish a course full of good intentions, but real life/ deadlines/writing gets in the way and you never quite settle into any social media routines. The blog never really gets going, the Twitter account starts to languish and you’re thinking “I really ought to be doing that social media stuff.”

If this sounds familiar then yes, you might find a one-day sessions will kick you off and get you actually DOING rather than thinking about doing. Or you might just think “OK I know this already but I need to be doing it.” If you’re someone who benefits from external kick-up-bum nudges then it may be what you need. But if in your heart of hearts you know you’re still not ready/willing/able to embrace the social media thang, then the day may not work for you.

What I do hope to cover is:
Why we’re doing it – where to start – what social media is good for (and what it’s not) – what to spend your time and creative energy on (and what to avoid) – how to make valuable connections – how to present yourself in a way that works for you – how to play (and enjoy) the long term game – how to keep social media in persepctive. Plus brilliant bluffs, scrumptious shortcuts, terrific tools and incredible insights.

This will be a general, channel-neutral day (in other words, we won’t focus exclusively on any one social tool or network, but take a broader view). If you’re looking specifically for Twitter or blogging help, sign up for my future workshops – Master Twitter in a Day (November 15th) and Set up a Blog in a Day (February 7 2015).

These’s no magic to social media, and I’m certainly not promising that a great blog or Twitter account is the key to fame and fortune, or even book sales. But these are powerful tools and channels that were never available before, and they’re here to stay – in one form or another. They have changed many aspects of our lives as writers. Understanding and adapting to that is crucial for anyone looking to further their writing career.

There are still places available for all three day courses – sign up here, or please pass on the details to anyone you know who may be interested. New Writing South members get 10% off.

Managing notifications for a quieter life


Have you ever felt overwhelmed by email notifications and wished you could just turn them all off?

It’s something that people often complain about, and it seems to be a big ‘turn off’ factor. You know the kind of thing:  “LaserHub and three other people followed @Starbucks” “Congratulate Jim on his new job!” “It’s Kathy’s birthday, send her a message” “@NiceCommenter has liked your post” … etc. Too many of these clog up your inbox and tend to just be annoying.

Social networks and blog providers want to keep you engaged and encourage you to login every day, and many of these alerts are simply designed to nudge you into action. The thinking is that once you’re happy using the tool and into a pattern of regular usage, you’ll stick around, become a valuable member of the community (in more ways than one – obviously there’s no such thing as a free social network, and your continued participation adds to the mass of data that’s used to sell advertising and other services. I know this is a controversial issue and not everyone is happy with it. But my attitude is that things have to be paid for, and as long as you understand the trade off AND protect your privacy in all the ways open to you, you can still enjoy the services provided.)

Notifications are often turned ON by default, but if you’re still finding your way around you may not know how to certain notifications off, or even that you can.

It’s important to take control and find out what you can turn off and how, before you reach the point that you just give up and stop using a service that otherwise could be perfect for you. Here’s a quick primer for WordPress, Twitter and Facebook.

Firstly, understand the difference between what you need to know about and what you don’t. Not all notifications are equal! A good general guideline is if a notification requires no action from you, it’s non-essential. Some notifications (such as being told when people ‘like’ something you’ve posted) can actually contribute to social media stress, which is another good reason to turn them off.


WordPress notifcations settings

For notifications about likes, comments and pingbacks (when people have referred to your blog on their blog) go to ‘Settings’ – ‘Discussion’ and you’ll see the options for email notifications. If you are moderating comments it’s important to know when a comment is being held pending your review. You may wish to be told when you have a new follower (so you can check out their blog) or when someone posts a comment ( so you can respond).

Wordpress Reader notifications

For notifications of new blog posts from blogs you follow, go to your Reader (make sure you’re logged into WordPress. Hover over the WordPress logo top left and you’ll see the link). Your Reader shows the latest posts from blogs you follow. Click on ‘Edit’ top right, and from there you can see the blogs you follow as a list.

Wordpress Reader settings

Click on the small ‘Edit’ button next to a blog name and you can opt into email alerts for both new posts and comments, either instant, or as a digest. I tend to opt for weekly digests, that way if a blogger is prolific I’m not getting interrupted by their blog posts all the time, but I can catch up once a week all in one go. Of  course you can turn off all email notifications if you wish, especially if you use a tool like Feedly for reading and subscribing to blogs. Feedly presents all new posts from blogs you follow in a neat magazine-style webpage.

If you comment on another blog and want to keep track of the conversation you can subscribe to the comments on that post. It’s a good idea to turn off comment notifications once the conversation has ended, or if there are a LOT of subsequent comments. You can turn off ‘following comments’ from a link in the email alert you are sent.


Go to Settings (cog icon top right) and select ‘Email notifications’. From here you have a range of options allowing you to control how much email you get.

Twitter email notifications

The first section  ‘Activity related to you and your tweets’ is worth working through carefully. The choice ‘Tailored for you’ means Twitter will make an informed guess about when you want a particular notification.

From there onwards, the level of priority gets lower. There are probably quite a few things you can leave unchecked. Remember, you’re trying to cut down on unnecessary emails.

Twitter has a page explaining about email preferences here.


From your profile page, hover over the down-arrow top right and click on ‘Settings’. From the General Settings page click on ‘Notifications’ in the left hand menu.

Facebook Settings

The first section is ‘How you get notifications’ which allows you to choose the medium – on the web only, on your phone and/or by email. Look at the options available to you. Under ‘email’ for example, you can opt for ‘all notifications’, ‘important notifications about activity’ or ‘only notifications about your account, security and privacy’. I would recommend either option 2 or 3.

FB notifications settings

The next section is ‘what you get notified about’. Again, don’t skip over this lightly.  If you’re getting too many notifications about activity in Groups you belong to, or people you are Friends with, you can limit it here.

If you have Followers (who aren’t necessarily Friends – very handy if you’re an author and want to distinguish between the two audiences) go to the Followers link on the left hand menu and create your desired settings for your communication with them.

NB If you are using Facebook and haven’t yet been through ALL your settings, including Privacy, Blocking and Timeline and Tagging, I recommend you do so. Think carefully about who you’re connecting with and how much access you want to give Friends, Friends of Friends, Followers and the general Public.

New Twitter Profiles – What You Need to Know


Twitter has now rolled out its new profile pages and there are quite a few improved features. Here’s how to get it (if you haven’t yet) and what you need to know.

First of all, if you haven’t noticed your Twitter profile changing, you can get the new profile by going to this page and at the bottom click ‘Get it now’.

Old Style Twitter profile page

Old style Twitter profile page

The first obvious change is the layout – instead of the old version with a full-screen background and a header image the width of the main column of tweets, we now have a full-width header with your Twitter avatar (the image that represents you) offset to the left. The look is a bit like Facebook, and indeed some people have criticised Twitter for merely imitating Facebook rather than coming up with something more original.

New style Twitter profile page

New style Twitter profile page

Personally I quite like the new look. Having the larger avatar, plus the name and description on the left feels clearer and cleaner, and I also like the additional detail of showing the date joined. Also on the left we now have a feature ‘Followers you know’, which, again in a Facebook-esque touch, is designed to help you decide whether this person is worth following.

Underneath the header, a horizontal menu now gives pride of place to the stats (numbers of tweets, photos, followers, following, favourites.) It’s a shame that Lists is now relegated to the ‘More’ dropdown menu, as I think it makes this great (and under-used) function even more hidden. But the other advantage of the layout is that the tweets themselves are now higher up on the page and centre-stage.

Another welcome improvement is the ability to filter out all the @ replies. This means that unless you click on ‘Tweets and replies’ when you view someone’s profile, you don’t have to wade through all the one-to-one back-and-forth conversations that go on. Not that @ replies are a bad thing – far from it, as they can be an indicator that a person is actually engaging with people, and not a broadcaster or a robot. But for a quick assessment of the quality of a person’s tweets, it’s easier when you can opt to just view their ‘open’ tweets.

Twitter profile page - new style tweets and replies option

You’ll notice that in the new profile some tweets appear enlarged. This happens to your most retweeted or favourited tweets, as a way of highlighting them, so the visitor’s eye is drawn to your ‘Best Tweets’. And another way of drawing attention to specific tweets, but this time it’s under your control, is to ‘pin’ a tweet to your page. This means it stays at the top of your tweet stream until you ‘unpin’ it. Again, the highlighting and pinning functions are not unlike Facebook, so if you’re familiar with Facebook you’re get the idea right away.

So what should you do with your new profile?

Do the following – start by clicking on the ‘Edit Profile’ button on the top right of your profile page.

Twitter edit profile

    1. Create and upload a suitable header image. You have ONE big image now – it’s prime real estate, so don’t waste it. See how Mindy McGinnis (above) has used hers to promote her latest book. But it could equally be something more abstract or atmospheric – just choose an image that says something about you.

Size: Twitter recommends 1500 pixels wide x 500 pixels high, but on a large screen that will be stretched out beyond looking nice. So go for bigger – 3000 x 1000 pixels would be good, at as high a resolution (dots per inch) you can manage, for good quality. There’s a 5MB maximum size though – and if you exceed this it’s likely you’ll just find it takes AGES to load (and never does) – you don’t always get told what the problem is, but it’s likely to be size.

2. Create and upload your avatar. This should be 400 x 400 pixels. On your profile it appears at 200 x 200, and smaller on your tweet stream of course. But when someone clicks on it they’ll see the large version. The main thing is to make sure the quality is good and the image still viewable when shrunk.

The good news is that you no longer need a background image. With the old layout it was always a faff to create a background image with logos or writing or images on it, because bits of it were always going to be obscured. So just choose a plain colour that complements your header and other colours (text, links etc). I think you’ll be pleased with the final effect.