Understanding Hashtags

Screenshot 2014-04-19 14.31.36Hashtags, we’ve all seen them – the symbol formerly known as pound (#) placed before a word or group of words within a Tweet, engaging users to search and find related topics of interest in the Twittersphere.

The purpose of the tag is to assist people in searching for related topics and labels online – but has the use of the hashtag become overdone? Are too many people using hashtags outside of their purpose? Have we become a #Nation?

A Quick History of the #Hashtag

The hashtag is a metadata tag and has been around the Internet since 1988 – created by Jarkko Oikarinen, it was most commonly used in Internet Relay Chats (IRC) and microblogging. The idea was to enable users to communicate with others about multiple topics and ideas without the message getting lost.

The hashtag gained its place in today’s popular culture when a similar system was introduced by Chris Messina, the self proclaimed “hash godfather”, in 2007; and six years later, hashtags are now being used in posts and comments throughout Google+, Instagram, and most recently, Facebook.   Hashtags have now become a way for people to search trending news and topics of interest.

Simplicity is Best

The most simple way a hashtag can be used is to source out an idea or concept on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr, by removing the noise of every other post, bringing your focus down to one idea or thought.

It helps us moderate through everything online, by bringing information right down to the common denominator – the actual word itself, preceded by this symbol #.

When looking for information on a certain topic, one can search most social media platforms for relevant posts with the same hashtag. Many times all you may find is more noise, but often times articles and information can be found enabling the researcher to access more information on the topic or subject they are looking for.

For example – if I wanted to know what people were saying about my cities centennial events; I would search #PoMo100, or if writing about a centennial event, I would include the hashtag in my Tweet:

“Had a blast at the #PoMo100 Community Picnic today!”

Or if I wanted to know more information about what was happening in Vancouver, I could search out posts with either of the words #Vancouver or #YVR.  All posts containing that information would be streamlined to me in the platform I was searching in, whether it was Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform that uses hashtags.

Never Lose your Message

When users start muddying the ‘waters’ with hashtags of randomness all it does it create more noise, and abuse a system set in place to help us manoeuvre through Tweets that are irrelevant to us and what we are looking for.  Filling a Tweet or status with multiple hashtags can become extremely annoying to the reader, and chances are – you they could lose interest in what you’re saying because you didn’t practice a ‘less is more’ approach.

What is he trying to say?


Do the Research

When planning whatever you do marketing wise, it’s best to research everything before launching a campaign – and with the evolution of social media, that includes #hashtags.  The last thing you want to find out a week into your campaign is that your chosen hashtag has another meaning or worse yet: have that campaign backfire on you and your business. Anyone remember the #McDStories campaign in 2012?

One way to make certain you’re on the right track hashtag wise is to see if your proposed tag is already in use – a simple search can help you get campaign on its way through search.twitter.com.  This can help alleviate any confusion online by taking one hashtag and giving it multiple meanings

Keep Hashtags Beautiful

Keep all the information concise and related to your topic. Limit your tags, and make sure your readers can understand what you’re writing about – just because it’s social media, doesn’t mean your message should be any less professional.

Remember – you want your messages to be read and you want your thoughts conveyed and your ideas found. Don’t get bogged down in unrelated hashtags that can cause readers to overlook what you’re saying.

Popular Hashtags


To find your hashtag voice – start slowly, and use only words that relate to your business or your message.  Don’t over-populate and keep it simple.

Have you ever seen a message online that got lost through too many hashtags?

Five Food Apps All Foodies Should Have

I’m a Foodie, plain and simple.  I know what I like and how I want it to taste, and I want to know where I can get the best of what I like – thankfully in this social world there’s an app for that (well quite a few). They can lead you to fantastic restaurants, farmers markets, and delicious recipes – all to make food accessible and fun. Here are five food apps for the foodie in all of us.

1. Yelp

Android, iPhone, Web, Windows

Yelp is the quintessential restaurant app for all food lovers.  Reviews, events, tips, photos, and maps, this application will let you find that five star restaurant, bypass the one star spot on your travels, and allow you to play tourist in your own city, and explore something new. Yelp is complete with a check in status, a chat option, and with enough reviews, Yelpers can gain “Elite Status” allowing them access to private events and perks.



2. Carrot Lines


Currently only available for iProducts, Carrot Lines is a Vancouver based company that is making eating healthy easy by encouraging consumers to learn what ingredients are in their food with a simple scan of a product code. Now powered by Tommy Europe, it has the added bonus of a fitness app, sharing videos and tips on becoming the best you, you want to be. CarrotLines will be launching their app for Android hopefully by summer or fall.



3. Foodspotting

Andorid, iPhone

This is a very simple click and share app that allows users to see what’s cooking in their area.  Instead of writing reviews, the user can take a photo and post; other foodies can see the quality of through imagery. You can see what other people in your neighbourhood are enjoying; find the particular food you are craving, and base decisions on photos and likes.




4. Eat St.

Android, iPhone

Did you know that Vancouver has over 110 Food trucks? The Eat St. app will let roadside foodies find the best (and the worst) street food in North America. Find  local food easily and watch clips from the show as well.  The app features a map with marked locations, their ranking (according to popularity), and whether or not they are open.  This app is a must have for everyone that’s hopped on the food truck bandwagon.



5. BonAppie

Android, iPhone

Another delightful Canadian app that allows users to locate restaurants based on what they want to eat, this app differs from Yelp in such a way because it allows users to search for menus.  This app also allows users to track the food they are craving, browse by cuisine, and of course – what’s closest to you; enabling you to keep track of your favourites by adding them to the list option.



There you have it.  Five apps that I like to better a consumer’s food experience.

What is your favourite food app and why?

Blogging Au Natural – My Session at Social Media Camp

When I found out I was chosen to speak at this years’ Social Media Camp  – I literally danced in my driveway – Seriously, I’m not kidding, you can ask my boyfriend (or the neighbours who think I’m nuts).

You see, having the opportunity to share a passion with like minded people is very appealing; and in May, I’ll get that opportunity, spending a few days with great people from our industry, as well as friends I’ve made online, who will become friends in real life.

Getting Au Natural at Social Media Camp

When I coined my title for my session Blogging Au Natural, I chose it not because it’s the clothing optional portion of Camp, but because this is where words originate – from a very natural part of ourselves, and what we do with those words depends on what exactly our end goal is and what we hope to accomplish from the blogs we post.

We all know how much the English language has changed and evolved from the first grunt, to the sonnets of Shakespeare – to Beat Slang of the ’50s all the way to LMAO and TTFN, and because of the beauty that exists from the development of blogging and social media – many, if not all of us, can share our words with the world.

So – What are we going to talk about anyway?

Blogging can be as simple or as complicated as you make it – many writers forget the subtle difference between a blog and an article, it does affect the voice and message of what you are writing.

I’m not going to talk about articles in my session – I’m going to talk about how one person – any person can start a blog about their family, their pets, or why they love taking pictures of food.

While many articles can come from a place inside of you – I feel that blogs (and of course, this is personal opinion), can target the personal core, or the heart if you will –  of the writer.

While both styles of writing should be factual – blogging allows us to skirt the lines a bit more – make them more about personal feeling – kinda like this one.

While I’ve never spoken at a conference before – I’m excited at this prospect.  I mean, how often, do you get to talk about something you love, with others who love it as much (if not more) as you?

What You’ll Learn

In my session – which will be geared to beginner and intermediate bloggers; we will talk all about forming the idea of a blog – all the way to developing your blog site.  This session will be highly interactive; feeding off the creativity in the room.

While I will educate about the fundamentals of a blog– this session will be all about you and your ideas. It’s a lot to cover in 55 minutes, but the beauty of social media is that the conversation won’t end at the end of the session – we can carry forward through the rest of camp and online after we all trudge home after an amazing time.

Personally – I am so excited for camp this year.  Great speakers, friends I didn’t have last year, and new ones in the making – which leaves me with one final thought:

What else (besides my session *wink, wink*) will you sign up for?  With so much awesomeness it’s going to be tough to pick.

See you at camp!

Chris Hadfield – Social Media That’s Out of This World

self portrait taken by Chris HadfieldOn December 21, 2012, a Sarnia, Ontario man changed the way the world looked at space.  Chris Hadfield, or @Cmdr­_Hadfield as he’s known to over 400,000 followers on Twitter, has spent the last three months sharing pictures, stories and songs from the International Space Station. He is forever changing the way we communicate with astronauts.

Chris Hadfield has taken the power of social media and engaged hundreds of thousands of people in space exploration – using platforms such as Reddit (Ask Me Anything), Google+, Twitter and YouTube to share his message of science, and living life 400 kilometres high above the earth’s atmosphere.

Picture Perfect

From day one of Chris’ space exploration; we have seen how magnificent the world looks from above in 140 characters… coupled with brilliant photos allowing us to see the Himalayan Mountains, Tiananmen Square and the Manicouagan Crater – one of earths oldest impact craters from a viewpoint never seen before outside of documentaries or space travel itself.


Positively Charged

I don’t know about you, but this is where I feel the heart of social media lies – in positive and educational messaging.  Hosting Tweet-Ups and chatting with William Shatner, or talking with elementary school students about the marvels of zero gravity – Chris Hadfield welcomes every question and speaks honestly from the heart about reaching your goals and dreams.

There is great potential to utilize social platforms for educational purposes.  I myself know, that despite years and years of loving, reading, and watching documentaries on the Cosmos – I have learned more about the simple beauty of the planet that surrounds me –  and I can’t help but wonder: if Newton or Galileo had social media in their time, how different would the world be?

What would Galileo have tweeted on discovering the phases of Venus?


You Can Lead a Horse to Water – But You Can’t Make Him Tweet

Image of people holding hands, talking, and thinkingRecently, I was asked by someone why their content wasn’t going viral.  What was their Social Media Manager doing wrong, with the content given, and how could it be fixed so that all their (companies) content was Re-Tweeted, and Shared.

While there is no real answer to this question, you must stop looking at your Social Media Manager as the fault to this problem – especially if you do not allow them to control what content is shared through social platforms. What you do need to do is look at your demographic, what your business hopes to gain from the social experiences, and above all – your content.

Social Media and Internet Analyst Brad Hines says: “Going viral is like a calculus function mixed with the element of randomness. You need a very specific combo of things, and then luck thrown in. I say calculus, because sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t.”  – Social Media Today, November 2012

It’s not you it’s me

I’ve seen it time and time again – People who write content, whether it be a blog, or information that is to be posted on Facebook or Twitter, and it’s not engaging.  It’s long winded, highly technical, and written in essay form.  Sure people troll online to become more informed, but they don’t want information  they have little interest in crammed down their throat.  Most people, if they don’t like what you have to say – or how you say it, won’t continue to read.

I have a saying:

“Just because you think its great content, or well written – doesn’t mean everyone else does”

Sadly, this is so true…You could sit back from your computer staring at the most beautiful opus you have ever written, only to find out later through analytics that you had bounces and zero interest in the “magnificent” words you just threw out into the ether – don’t pull your hair trying to figure out why people didn’t truly dig your “fun” technical blog on insert topic here. Just look at ways to share that content in a way more people can relate to.

Are You Relatable?

One thing I loved about my last job was how we tackled Social Media.  The topic was Breast Cancer—and it can be one of technical and scientific terminology, or information that has already been over shared on the WWW. However, maximizing on our target demographic, we created compelling content that was easy to read, relatable, and often went viral.  We took a serious issue and were able to educate thousands of people on information that had always been at their finger-tips – and we did this through stories, pictures, and lighter language.   We made our content about them, and always asked questions.

So how do we get them to share and Tweet?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog: There is no specific algorithm, or calculation to create social content that has the certainty of going viral, but you can create compelling relatable posts that spark interests, and shares by:

  • Talking about them – your key demographic in a way they can relate and understand.
  • Share stories – Human interest always gets more interest than that of a technical nature
  • Post real photos – while this can be tough at times – try to use real pictures (says the girl who’s using a Canstock image in this post).
  • Limit your characters. I learned last year at Social Media Camp to keep your Tweets to at least 120 characters, so people can actually a) Re-Tweet and b) Comment on your content.
  • Take technical info, and alter it in a way that doesn’t take away from the message but lets people understand what you’re saying in as little words as possible.
  • Give your content – whether it be for a blog, or a daily Tweet the K.I.S.S. treatment. Keep it simple and easy to read.
  • Ask questions – this welcomes comments from your followers and shows you want to hear from them.

Again, while there is no simple answer to what gets content shared and followed, utilizing some of the steps above can help your social media and blogging content.

What do you do to create compelling content online?



Shoot from the Hip, Blog from the Heart

illustration by Rob Sacchetto

When I was younger, I wrote all my thoughts fears and dreams into a little black book—when that book was filled, I’d buy another copy, exactly the same, and continue on.  I’d write for hours just about growing up mainly – and boys…I think if I looked back on some of those journals now (if I had them), I’d get a real good kick out of my thoughts and words whispered all those years ago.

When I started blogging on MySpace back on a cold February morning in 2005 I didn’t know much about it.  All the experience I had had was in those journals, safe from prying eyes. Then, on a night just days before an MRI, I transformed my fears out into the Ether….my words, falling on —what?  Back then, I had no idea who or if anyone was listening.

In the Beginning 

When I started blogging, it was very similar to those journal entries I scribbled in private.  No holds barred, I shared confessions, hurtful situations, as well as humourous life situations.  I basically talked, and one day – people started listening (and commenting). These blogs weren’t for branding or marketing purposes, they were for healing. And despite how private some of the topics were, I felt great solace in putting it out there. It could have been in fact (for me) a form of therapy.

After my mum passed away, I stopped blogging. The personal style in which I wrote would have been detrimental to my healing; it may sound weird, but at that time in my life, I truly didn’t know how to blog in any other format. It took me a few years to get back into writing, choosing topics a little less personal, and developing a new style still reminiscent of the from the heart words I used to write.

Blogs Have Power

The written word, when shared correctly, can tug at heart strings and enrage the reader.  Bloggers can manipulate the written word for impact, for justice, or as a call to action. It’s all about how we tell a story.  Is it our story that forms the pattern and the voice of our topic? Are we writing for a brand, or are we an impartial audience commenting on what’s happening in our world?

Nowadays, anyone can start a blog. The Internet is full of stories, articles, and messages from personal, business, and marketing teams – sharing, spinning, and editorializing life as we go.

Shoot from the Hip, Blog from the Heart

I have one rule when I write – be it an investigative, educational, or “puff” piece – and while it may break all rules of journalism (maybe), I do it anyway. It’s what allows me to write the way I do; I find that in the topics I write about – Social Media, Food, and Health – I can still be impartial yet pull words from the deepest recesses of my heart to get my point across.

Should we Ignore the Rules?

For the most part, I truly believe I ignore all the rules of writing when it comes from some educational sources, however writing is different when you’re writing a blog vs. a research paper or even an article in Macleans Magazine.

Besides what comes from your heart, blogging needs to have other attributes to make it worthy of a read in a world where even pets have blogs.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Be Authentic
    Just write honestly and truthfully – people can tell from your words if you know what you’re talking about
  • Do your research
    Even if you have a “just for fun” blog, take the time to know your topic.  There is your opinion which is important, but it also needs to be factual.
  • Break up the blog
    Section off your blog to make it easier and more eye catching to read (still learning this myself!)
  • Have catchy titles
    I’m a HUGE fan of fun and quirky titles.  Have fun with it, play with the language.
  • Keep language simple
    Are you smart?  It’s important to use conversational language in a blog. Keep it simple. Remember, you want to engage the reader to keep reading, not get them so cranky they don’t know what you’re saying.

Blogging should be fun! If you are writing just for the sake personal pleasure, or if you like to share information on a more serious note, always remember why you started blogging in the first place – and I’ll bet it’s because enjoy it.

Do you have a blog?  What’s it about?