The Hashtag Before the Tweet

I’m borrowing an old expression and updating it. I’m sure many are familiar with this old cliche’: “pulling the cart before the horse.” Essentially, it means to start something without possessing the proper tools first. Packing your bags but lacking the destination. Trying to rock the boat but having no boat. So on and so forth. To a generation that thrives on immediacy and cyber interaction, “the hashtag before the tweet” has some relevance, I feel. For example, nobody puts the hashtag before their status update. In social media land, that’s a huge ‘no-no’. Ask any teenager with Twitter or millennial with social media experience and they’ll tell you the same. Sounds trivial, but it’s one of the few online rules most social media moguls follow.

And hey, it works. Nobody does this unless they want people to “unfollow” them. This isn’t a dare; it’s simply a fact. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

For example, here’s the proper use of a “#,”

“I was driving to the store the other day when I saw a person run out in front of a car.” #peoplearereckless

Here, you have an update; you have a story; and lastly, you have the hashtag search piece connected at the end. Now compare the above with this:

#peoplearereckless “I was driving to the store the other day when I saw a person run out in front of a car.”

See the difference? Better yet – feel the difference? If you’re going to tell people something interesting, entertaining, or educational, then you need to have a hook. You need to lead in with the story. You don’t cut straight to the conclusion, aka your hashtag. People don’t respond well to that. Where’s the tension? Where’s the excitement? In a tweet, it might be hard to imagine any “tension” or “excitement” happening, but telling a story before its conclusion is the most practical rule of thumb to abide by. Don’t tell me that #peoplearereckless. Instead, show me that #peoplearereckless. And do so with a story first.

So why bring this up? Well, it’s a place most writers find themselves in. That “hashtag before the tweet” stage. Few things measure up to a spanking new idea – one that’s worth telling or teaching others with. The initial feeling is invigorating, full of life, and full of positive energy. But what immediately follows can be bone-crushing: that overwhelming, intimidating revelation of how much time, energy, and commitment will be required to carry the idea to fruition. And as a writer, you want the conclusion to be there – to have all the pieces in play – so you can cut straight to the end. You’d rather tell than show.

How does anyone know his story is any good? Well, he can tell people all day long about his idea but when the time comes to show it, what does he have to provide for all his ramblings? He must be able to show what he’s been doing all this time or else the idea remains just that: an idea; a hashtag before the tweet, so to speak.

And that’s where I’d prefer not to find myself: hashtagging before the tweeting. Because let’s face it – that’s just annoying. Kind of like pulling the cart before the horse.


  1. I love how you linked the hashtag in a tweet to the conclusion of a sentence in prose. Cool post! 🙂

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