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Using Twitter Hashtags to Follow Events

When an event has everyone's attention, join the conversation using Twitter hashtags.

Twitter is changing the way we interact during special events. By searching a topic via hashtag (the symbol # and a keyword following) you can get on-the-ground updates, news, insights and trivia from those on the social network.

Following the space jump

This Sunday my family was transfixed by the space jump by Felix Baumgartner. In the midst of a relaxing Sunday afternoon my husband was reminded via Twitter that the rescheduled event was on. He jumped onto the YouTube stream. Walking by the home office I noticed the video image and jumped on my own computer to watch. I was never able to get onto the YouTube stream (over three million people were watching at that point), but the various data such as altitude, speed, temperature all were adjusting in real time as the balloon/capsule rose. One of the folks on Twitter suggested watching the TV broadcast on Discovery News, so smartphones in hand we went to watch it on TV.

My sister-in-law complained about the YouTube stream's flakiness via Facebook as we were able to share the TV option with her. My daughter joined us in watching the TV broadcast and brought her phone as well. Each of us shared funny tweets we saw and some that we retweeted. A tech reporter outside of London I follow on Twitter also had problems with the YouTube feed so I looked online and saw that BBC News was broadcasting the event live as well.

There were several hashtags being used for the event: the official #redbullstratos, the straightforward #spacejump, #felix, #baumgartner and #livejump and lots of improvised shout-outs that riffed on how amazing of a feat this was. At one point a fake account popped up and quickly gathered thousands of followers and retweets of status updates such as "I hope I make it." It was a lot of fun to be a part of a world-wide audience that was able to communicate with fellow fans and share the experience. Twitter and Facebook brought friends and strangers together no matter how far flung.

A different type of concert experience

Earlier this month, we attended Virgin Mobile's Freefest at Merriweather Post Pavillion. By using the hashtag #freefest we not only got updates on set times, parking conditions and other information before the show, during the daylong event we were able to share photos with others, and see what was happening in other parts of the festival. Afterwards we found links to show reviews, photos, sets and see what we missed.

Keeping informed on specialized topics

In my work life, I use hashtags to read about conventions I am unable to attend. I can follow news stories as they happen and keep an eye on developments in fields that are of interest. For example, I like to geek on developments with graphene as a new material so I have a column in my Tweetdeck account with the hashtage #graphene to keep me up to date.

Interactive media isn't new, just improved

For years people have talked of interactive TV as a way to engage audiences. From radio call-in shows to MTV's Total Request Live, excited and engaged fans could have the thrill of having their request aired or seeing their name up on the screen. Twitter has grown to be a more open and engaging evolution of the idea. For example, news channels will run Twitter streams or the anchors will interact with viewers by responding on and off-air to viewer comments. Even entertainment shows such as "Dancing with the Stars" (#dwts) and "Project Runway" (#projectrunway) encourage people to tweet about performances and favorite contestants as part of the viewing experience.

Sports are a natural for interaction

Interaction on Twitter during sporting events has become a big part of fan participation. From reports from the stadiums to arguing over referee's calls, if you engage with other fans and analysts you can access more color commentary than what was available ever before. No need to wait until post-game call-in sports shows, you can get the viewpoints of both experts you choose to follow and those of fellow fans if you use the right hashtags. If you were full of #Natitude this spring, summer and cut-short fall, you had company on Twitter. And each Sunday this season, you could expect to see a lot of love for #RGIII.

So is our local sport, national politics

During political seasons, if you aren't hearing enough over the radio, TV, on your Facebook feed or in the newspaper, Twitter allows for even more interaction. One of my favorite things to see is unlikely correspondences such as the hip-hop star Chamillionaire tweeting @MarthaRaddatz after she mentioned that her cellphone once went off during a press conference with his hit "Riding" as her ringtone (she claims her son set the ringtone for her). Reactions from the candidates' teams take place alongside commentators both professional and not.

Trending and top tweets help you find the hot tweets

Twitter helps you find the right people to follow. You can filter out a lot of the spam or uninformative tweets by choosing "Top"; you can keep it comfortable by just choosing tweets from "People You Follow" or you can open the floodgates by choosing "All." Twitter is an environment where you control your news feeds. If you find that someone's tweets aren't informative, just unfollow, or if you consistently smile or are informed by someone your friends retweet, go ahead and add them to your Timeline.

From time to time, check out what is "Trending" to find out what people are talking about. Perpetually trending topics such as "Justin Bieber" might not be your cup of tea, but often you can learn of big news events that you might not be aware of as it appears on a trending list. 

I like to think of Twitter as my online and up-to-date newspapers. I like to include a mix of voices (news, politics, music, sports, technology, lifestyle) that provide links to content from across a broader spectrum of voices that I could find on my own. When news is breaking I rely on traditional outlets, of course, but often I reach them through status updates that appear on Twitter first.

Be aware that gossip travels fast on Twitter. If you see a lot of notices of a celebrity death for example, be skeptical and look to traditional news sources before posting a status or retweeting a rumor. Also, if you get a tweet saying, "Is this you?" with a link to a photo or video, odds are that is a spam tweet trying to get you to go to a malware site. Like all open forms of communications, scammers are always trying to join the conversation.

Avoiding information overload

I readily admit that I am an information junkie, and Twitter is almost too much of a good thing, but it is something that I can close out and return to when I have the time. It is fun to use it as an interactive tool when I do want to engage with an event breaking in real time, making the experience a richer one. Use Twitter as a deliberate choice, not an unthinking habit, to keep things in perspective.

What has been your experience? Do you turn to Twitter when you want to share a big event?

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