Harnessing the Hashtag

by August Schulenburg

in Tech & the Arts

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You sit at your computer, your Twitter account before you, and with a single click, aggregate a hundred disparate voices into a single stream focused on a single topic.

You have harnessed the hashtag.

What is a hashtag, and how do you wield its awesome power? When tweeting, simply put a pound sign before a word or words with no spaces between them, and just like that, you have created a hashtag.

#Areyoustillwithme ? Good, because if that last sentence were in a tweet, you could have clicked on it, and every other tweet containing #Areyoustillwithme would assemble in the order they were posted. This tool allows you to aggregate the rapid-fire stream of tweets into a manageable column of conversation.

When a hashtag is very popular, you’ll see it appear in the right-nav of your Twitter page under Trending Topics. This allows other interested tweeps (peeps using Twitter) to join in the conversation.

While many Trending Topics are celebrity based or playful riffs on sentence fragments (#dontbeshocked is trending as I write), the hashtag acquired respectability when it became associated with events. Conferences began to use hashtags to bring all of their attendees’ tweets into a single online space, something TCG tried during our last conference with #conf09.

Then the hashtag evolved again, this time into a live reporting tool. Live-tweeting reported on unfolding events, expanding the room, allowing followers to engage regardless of their physical location. This happened most famously in Iran’s ‘Twitter Revolution’, and most recently with the earthquake in Haiti.

For theatre, the most significant hashtag evolution came out of the New Play Institute at Arena Stage. The hashtag #newplay was created on November 25th, 2009 in concert with the Institute’s Defining Diversity forum, and Twitter lighted up with participants all over the country. On December 7th, the folks at the New Play Institute suggested the use of #newplay be extended past the event, as a way of continuing the conversation about new play development.

And 4,064 tweets later, #newplay is the way theatre professionals on Twitter talk about new play development. Read the entire archived conversation here.

The next phase in #theatre’s evolution came from a band of insomniac artist/producers who dubbed their hashtag #2amt, for that late night hour of inspiration. Launched in late January, this hashtag has amassed a remarkable 4,689 tweets in a very short time, and become the place on Twitter to talk strategy and tactics for producing theatre.

Just last week, the use of hashtags took yet another turn, this time as a tool for advocacy. On Arts Advocacy day, art lovers on twitter used the hashtag #arts in the attempt to make it a Trending Topic, and show the breadth of support for the arts in this country. And it worked!

Now we’re getting in on the act, using #TCG2010 to prepare for the TCG National Conference. We’ll be using the hashtag to ask Conference-centric questions leading up to the event, and to expand the room by live tweeting during it. Will #TCG2010 endure to become one of the ways the field talks about theatre? That depends entirely, dear reader, on how you wish to use it.

That’s because hashtags are exactly as powerful as the ideas and passion of the people using them. So…what do you want to hash out? Tag, you’re it.

-Gus

By day, Gus is the mild-mannered Circulation and Customer Service Manager at TCG. By night, he transforms into August Schulenburg: playwright, actor, director, and Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble. His produced plays include Riding the Bull, Carrin Beginning, Other Bodies, Rue, The Lesser Seductions of History, and Jacob’s House.

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  • http://www.calliekimball.com Callie Kimball

    Great post, Gus! I love how TCG is not just embracing social media, but is really being creative and engaging in such meaningful ways!

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  • Gus Schulenburg

    Thanks, Callie!

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