It has pretty much turned into an everyday question for me these days. Someone will come up to me and with a confused look on their face say, “So I really don’t get what that number sign means that goes directly in front of a word/words that everyone seems to use EVERYWHERE. What does it even mean?” Well my friend, that is one loaded question.
Tonight we are talking hashtags. People who don’t know what hashtags are will refer to them as a “number sign,” “pound sign,” or  “tic-tac-toe” sign. However, in the context of social media and pretty much in the context of pop culture today, they are called hashtags. A hashtag is expressed as the following: #WordOrPhrase. Once you utilize the “#” sign and add a word or any combination of words after it, you have created a hashtag!
So you know how to create a hashtag but how do you really use a hashtag? What do they mean?  This is where I always have to stop myself for a second and find the best way to respond. Hashtags are one of those things where you know what they mean if you know what they mean. Okay, I always hate receiving answers like that so I am going to do a better job of explaining it. But it is true though, all of my nerdy social media friends just get it. We understand the variety of ways hashtags can be used…it is pretty much like speaking a language. I am going to do my best at explaining “this language” by breaking it down by the main ways they are used.
Let me start by relating how hash tags were originally supposed to be used and really how they are still used today. First off, keep in mind that HT’s originated on Twitter. If you are so far behind on the social media curve that you do not have a good grasp on Twitter I suggest you read some of my past blogs on the subject.  Anyway, say there was a certain event going on that a lot of people who were Twitter users were experiencing…let’s just say the Super Bowl. In order to connect with everyone at the game or just everyone watching the game, a HT could be implemented that was expressed as #SuperBowl. When a Twitter user wrote a tweet that had to do with the Super Bowl, he/she would add the #SuperBowl HT somewhere in the tweet. This would make it so that tweet would be grouped with all the other tweets that referenced the hashtag as well. This makes it possible for people to see what others are saying and to connect with them if they feel like it. If enough people are talking about a certain event and sharing a common hashtag, they can get it trending. I know most everyone has heard that word. Trending is a term that Twitter reserves for the most popular hashtags at a given time. Trending topics are given a special spot on the Twitter homepage.
However, as Twitter has exploded and other social media channels have emerged, hashtags have evolved. They are no longer just a code word or a rallying point ….they are much more casual. You will see hashtags used simply to summarize a tweet or a statement. You know how you give a subject line to an e-mail? Well, hashtags act as a subject line for tweets. These hashtags can be as obvious and boring as someone going to take their drivers’ test. They could tweet the following: The big day is finally here. I am going to the DMV to take my driver’s test #DriversLicense. You see how that worked? The fictitious person who tweeted that explained what they were doing and then gave it a hash tag that summarized what the main point or goal was. Here is another example: So fun in Bozeman today watching the Griz once again destroy Montana State #winning. I used this example for two reasons. For one, it again showed how hashtags are used to summarize. The person who wrote this saw their team win, that was the focal point of the tweet. Secondly, I used it because #winning is probably the most popular hash tag in the world. Because of the popularity that Charlie Sheen brought the term and because of its diverse nature, it is used a lot. As a matter of fact, probably 50% of my tweets contain the hashtag of #winning.
Let’s end with the most ambiguous usage of the hashtag. Let’s say you look at a tweet and you notice that the hash tag is not really referencing an event/date and it seems to have nothing to do with the subject of the tweet. Is the person who sent out the tweet on crack? Hardly. In this present day, hashtags are abused…in a good way of course! People will add the most random, most bizarre, and most stupid hash tags onto their tweets. People will use hash tags to express sarcasm, tell an inside joke, flirt, insult, drop a hint, secretly communicate, detail irony, relate a story, add additional information, reference something, advertise a product, throw someone off, or one of a thousand (and I really many a thousand) different other usages. Like I said earlier, you really just have to be continually exposed to this type of communication to really understand it. I will give some examples of hash tags fitting into a few of the above categories. Sarcasm: If I lose twenty pounds by the weigh-in tomorrow, I will achieve my New Year’s Resolution #NoShotInHell.   Flirt: So good to see @DreamGirl at the store today #SoPretty #SmellsGood. Irony (actual tweet from me): Just locked my keys in my car in the CVS parking lot. Raining outside #winning. Additional Information: Very depressed right now, did not pass my driver’s test today #CouldNotParallelPark #RanOverSomeDog.
Can you kind of see the myriad of ways that hash tags can be used? While it can be a little confusing, it is also a lot of fun.  Just in the same way that instant messaging shorthand/language has spread from AIM to the classroom (i.e. George Wash. waz a good prez of the us lol) so have hash tags. I personally use HT’s in all of the social media/chat platforms I use…Facebook, Instagram, Words with Friends, Voxer, etc. I have used them in e-mails. I have even used them in hand written notes. And sadly, I have actually used hash tags will speaking out loud (i.e. “Glen, we are going to play in this Vegas poker tournament and we are going to do some damage…Hashtag WINNING”). Hashtags aren’t going anywhere.
#SoIHopeIClearedUpSomeOfTheConfusionOnHashTags #PleaseDontHesitateToAskMeAnyQuestions #HashTagsAreAVeryUniqueAndFunWayToCommunicate #BestToBeAsCompetentAsPossible #ThanksForTakingTheTimeToReadMyBlogIAmHumbledByMyGrowingReadership #Winning #DontBlink.

Twitter: Someone Is Always Watching

Today the new head football coach of Ohio State, Urban Meyer, banned his players from using Twitter. Meyer is not the first coach to issue such a ban, as many other coaches both in football and out of football have done the same thing. The issue of both student-athletes and professional athletes utilizing Twitter accounts and the rights they should have is an enormous issue. Working in an intercollegiate athletic department, I see this issue unfold on a daily basis. Even though I could go on and on about Twitter in athletics, the fact of the matter is that this type of medium is really influencing all areas of life in all different kinds of professions and across many different age demographics. It is just easy to see it manifested in the athletic world because of the high pedestal that sports hold in society. Like it or not, Twitter is not the fad that some people forecasted it to be, rather it is a social media tool that is still rapidly gaining momentum and is not going to go away anytime soon. Because of this staying power, I don’t know if I completely support Coach Meyer’s decision to all-together ban Twitter (although I initially did when the announcement was made today). I would much rather see teams, offices, companies, etc. develop strict policies and protocols on how athletes/employees/administrators use it.
One thing that is plainly obvious is that Twitter is not the Twitter that it was three years ago. No longer is this a social medium used by a small minority of society that is reserved for updating where you are and what you are doing at the given moment. No, no, no, the landscape has changed drastically. Today’s Twitter is much more widespread and is focused intensely on interaction among fellow users, gut reactions and opinions to unfolding events, and wittiness. It is very common for Twitter users, especially younger users, to have full out conversations over the medium. I am talking about detailed interactions about plans for the night, relationship issues, or any other type of drama that might be going on. This is of course played out for the whole Twitter community to see. In the Twitter world, it really is about being clever and unique. You want to have content that is going to draw people to your account, content that other people are going to pick up on. Anyone who uses Twitter, myself included, will tell you that it is kind of like a badge of honor to be retweeted. Well, you aren’t going to get retweeted by saying something mundane or boring.  This urges people to push the envelope, to say something a little edgy, to try to one up someone. Of course when the objective is to be as witty as possible, content goes onto your Twitter feed that employers/coaches/teachers will probably cringe at.
You probably are all looking at me thinking I am the biggest hypocrite ever. Well, you are pretty much right. I am a Twitter addict (@BrentR7) with over 9,000 tweets to my name. I love interacting over Twitter and I am usually not shy to send out to all my followers what I am thinking at the given moment. However, as of late my eyes have been opened a little more to the negative implications that Twitter can bring to both the individual and the organization that the individual represents. I have sent out some tweets that I wish I hadn’t. Combined with my personal experience and with all of the mind-blowing, bush league tweets I see others send out over a variety of different social groups and professions, I feel that work places, organizations, teams, etc. should not ban the usage of Twitter but rather monitor the usage of Twitter through company policies.
The one thing that I forget a lot, and I know others do too, is that more people are paying attention to what you post than what you think. Not only that, but people are also connecting you with the organization/team/work place that you are affiliated with. I feel this is the main point that all work place Twitter policies (actually all social media policies) should be based on and driven into the heads of employees/athletes/etc.  In life, no matter what job you hold, your boss is always going to tell you that outside of the workplace you are still representing your place of work/your team and that you need to conduct yourself in a way that honors and reflects that position. Well, even though the Twitter realm might be out of the workplace, it is probably a good idea to hold yourself in a respectful way because even in the land of social media people are going to pinpoint you with whatever higher level you are associated with.
Once that this general rule is communicated, specifics relating to Twitter can be implemented. For my job, I already adhere to a couple of guidelines that I feel are very reasonable and necessary for everyone across the board. Each night I stop tweeting at a certain hour and I am to refrain from using profanity. These are no-brainers. If you are a high school teacher and you are sending tweets out at 3am in the morning, what are your students going to think when they see you just a few hours later? Or what if you are a real estate agent and some prospective clients see you dropping the F Bomb in several tweets right before they are going to see you about a property? I have had people from the community who I have helped or worked with immediately add me on Twitter right after I had met them. People are going to try to get an inside scoop on you before you even know they are following you so it is important to always keep your guard up.
Some other guidelines I believe anyone who  is representing a workplace or team that is in the public view should adhere to are as follows: 
1.       Pay close attention to grammar and punctuation. Yes, it is fine to use shorthand and slang in your tweets within reason but don’t misspell words, don’t add a bunch of unnecessary punctuation marks or letters, don’t tweet in pig latin.
2.       Never slam/criticize a competitor.
3.       NEVER criticize a company that is affiliated/invested with your organization/company/team.
4.       Be careful who you follow and who follows you. People will look at this and try to tie you to them.
5.       Be very careful what you retweet and quote, whatever you send out will be construed as a direct reflection of you, even if someone else said it.
6.       Know when to stop @ replying. Public conversations through Twitter are fun but some subjects are definitely more suited for direct messages, the phone, texting, or face-to-face.
7.       Twitpic is a very useful and effective tool but make sure all images are appropriate.
8.       Don’t get into arguments over Twitter with another user. These can be especially embarrassing as they are played out for everyone to see.
9.       Keep your account information PRIVATE and always log out if you are on a computer or don’t let your phone get into the wrong hands. There is nothing worse than when someone poses as you on one of your social media outlets. Sometimes serious damage can occur.
10.   When you are under the influence, don’t tweet.
Of course these rules and guidelines would be pointless if they are not enforced. The way teams/organizations/companies uphold the integrity of their Twitter policy is for them to decide. Some might opt to put pressure on an employee to delete their Twitter account entirely if they are in violation of the policy. Other organizations might implement harsher consequences and threaten employees/team members who are in violation of the policy with probation or termination or expulsion from the team.
Bottom line, I don’t feel banning Twitter completely is the way to go. While it does potentially eliminate the problem, I also feel it takes away rights from people and it also deprives them of a communication tool that is actually really cool. We are social animals and we should have the opportunity to express ourselves through a variety of different mediums. If we just tell ourselves to be smart and remind ourselves that someone is always watching, we should be fine. Tweet on! Don’t Blink.

The Thing I HATE Most: Social Media Drama

Many of you who read my blog know I am passionate about social media. I have blogged a lot about the many positives of SM and I have dabbled a small amount about the negative aspects of it as well. My negative rants mainly had to do with the corporate part of it though. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I have warned that a more thorough dissection by myself on some of the personal negatives of social media was coming. This is what tonight’s post is about.
I hate social media drama.
More so, I hate it when someone tries to put you down or convey something that they were too chicken shit to tell you to your face through a social media channel. I know everyone here has seen it. Some may have fallen victim to it and some may have dished it out. When it comes to myself, I have felt the sting of social media attacks before. Strangely enough, it has always been inflicted upon me by girls. Or maybe it is not that strange. Let’s face it, women are catty. They will rip apart their supposed best girlfriends through social media and trash ex-boyfriends. Sounds very high school-ish, right? Well, unfortunately, many girls way past high school age participate in this.
I want to get across that I am not bitter. Majority of the girls I have dated, hung out with, or just been acquaintances with have been awesome. Things did not work out or our friendship just grew distant and that was that. No jealous feelings, no animosity, no social media attacks. Just a mutual parting of ways.
Unfortunately, not all have been that way. If a relationship ends, let it end face-to-face. Don’t air it out on your Facebook status or on your Twitter updates. Don’t think of some back road way of sticking it to the person through a post.
One of the most common things that happens when a relationship ends or a friendship is broken is for a person to delete the other from their Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Yes, this is incredibly immature. But you know what, if you are even more immature than that and you resort to social media attacks or social media games, save yourself some freaking dignity and just DELETE that person.
Some of the social media slights I have received are so childish I actually laugh at them. In college I had a girlfriend and we broke up, it did not end on the best of terms. We weren’t talking. Two weeks later this person randomly posts on my Facebook wall saying something to the effect of “Hey Brent, I hope you are doing well. I am doing so awesome. Well, have a good week!” Of course her profile picture is of her and some random dude with arms locked around each other. I really couldn’t care less about this girl but I just shook my head because it was just so obvious what she was doing and so pathetic at the same time.
My brother has been the target of the “courageous/loyal friend” attack. This is when the friend of an ex goes on Facebook and blasts the person on his wall for all to see. Give me a break. Is your life so dull and unfulfilling that you have to cause drama in the relationships of others? You don’t look like a good friend when you do this. You look like a loser who only knows half the story and likes to get in the middle of other people’s business.
I have had girls who try to hash things out with me over Facebook Chat. Sorry, won’t do it. I follow the exact same protocol for online chatting as I do for texting. I won’t entertain arguments or attacks unless they are taken up on the phone or in person. Again, those transcripts last forever and more importantly, context and tone are lost in text discussions.  If you have to hide behind a computer or behind a phone keypad to get your point across, you are not right for me.
Twitter is another social media outlet that can allow people to take a childish route at taking shots at someone. I think I am a prime candidate for this type of ribbing simply because I am a Twitter nut. People know I am addicted to the medium and that I do follow what is going on.
This summer I had one girl who I had this long distance type deal with.  She had recently gotten a Twitter account and had less than a handful of followers.  She knew I got her tweets delivered to my text message inbox. We had stopped talking but then all of a sudden one night I got a general tweet from her saying she needed a guy who was not “always winning.” If you know me, you get that. Anyways, it infuriated me. I let her know about it, I was probably too harsh on her, but it just explains how little tolerance I have for this type of stuff. She promptly deleted her Twitter account. We have since made amends and are friends.
I also had one girl totally misconstrue a tweet I sent out by changing the wording of my original tweet and sending it out as a retweet! Now how low is that? I had never really even thought of this as a possibility in the Twitter world because it is just so mischievous.
One night I was hanging out with a  girl for like only the second or third time and she sends out a hashtag that read “#stupidboysday” (or something like that) during a dumb argument we were having…I got the Tweet in the middle of our little dispute. The same girl a couple months later then sent out a Tweet to all of her followers that contained the same personal attacks on me that she was flooding my text message inbox with. I would not respond to the text messages so she decided to tweet the message to get my attention.
There is a reason why I primarily date older girls. They are just more mature, less self-obsessed, and way beyond the urge to cast out all of their feelings for the whole world to see. Again, while I believe girls participate in social media bashing much more than guys, I also know that the majority of girls don’t participate in it at all.
Social media is a cheap and slimy way to stick it to someone. Use SM to network, promote your brand, follow your interests, keep in touch, etc…..don’t use it to settle a score. When it comes to relationships, treat them with respect, even if they are broken. Social media does not do them justice. Although it definitely is harder, seek out the person and  talk to them face-to-face. It is the right  thing to do. Don’t Blink.

Reaching My 7,000th Tweet

Tonight I reached a personal milestone as I sent out my 7,000th tweet. Over the past two and a half years I have turned to my cell phone to record my thoughts, opinions, observations, favorite quotes, favorite sayings, musical lyrics, and random crap that no one really cares about. It has been a lot of fun.
I became part of Twitter Nation in February of 2009. At the time I was a wide eyed intern at Grizzly Athletics just loving life. Our athletic director got back from one of his national conferences and at the center of this particular conference was this weird thing called Twitter. Well Jim O’Day came back from this convention and he shared the news with our marketing department  and told the that he wanted it implemented within Grizzly Athletics. My boss and my predecessor both got their personal Twitter accounts and because I wanted to be like them, I did too! The rest is history.
If you follow my Twitter account, @BrentR7 , you know my basic style. I tweet about pop culture and about what I am doing. I start each day with a quote that I take right off of my “Life’s Little Instructions” page-a-day calendar and I end each day with a my life motto, “Don’t Blink.” Very rarely do I say anything personal, emotional, or negative. Over time, Twitter has become much more of a conversation tool between users and I feel like I have adapted along with it. It is a lot of fun responding to the opinions and questions of Twitter users and having all day running conversations.  The use of hash tags is another one of my favorite parts of Twitter. I have rolled over laughing at some of the hash tags people I follow have dropped in their tweets and I try to bring a smile to the faces of my followers with some of mine as well.
When it comes to my Twitter account, I don’t use it as a platform to say whatever outrageous thought comes into my head. I have my place of employment and my family to represent. I will never include profanity in my tweets nor will I send anything out when I have been drinking. I will never, never use Twitter to get back at a girl or to call her out. I am not in junior high. As is our department rule, I can’t tweet past 11pm MT.  I honor this and at around 10:57pm – 11pm, you will always get my “Don’t Blink” tweet, signaling that I am signing off for the night.
Enough about my personal Twitter account though, let’s talk very briefly about how revolutionary this amazing social media tool is. Twitter has transcended the way we get information. Instantly we can get updated on everything that is happening around the world. We have unprecedented access to politicians, sports stars, and celebrities.  No longer do influential people have to go through news media or publiscists to get their message out, they can just piece together 140 characters, press a button, and send it out to millions of people.
Thanks to Twitter, people have the ability now to follow along in real time as events thousands of miles away take place. If you want to follow a sporting event, a protest, a rescue operation, a court case,  or many other events that take place over a period of time you can track it all on Twitter. When breaking news occurs, you are going to hear about it first through Twitter. I remember watching the whole Michael Jackson death saga play out over a string of tweets. I was two steps ahead of all the people in my office who were watching the television. I really do credit that event as really bringing the power of Twitter’s reach to the forefront of society. People really started to take notice.
The way that Twitter connects the world via trending topics is beyond cool. Over 3,000 tweets per second were sent when President Obama delivered the new of Osama Bin Laden’s death.  Just a couple months later, 7,000 tweets per second were sent during the Women’s World Cup championship match. Then, just a month and a half later, 9,000 tweets per second were sent when Beyonce revealed that she was pregnant on the VMAs.  Not only is Twitter delivering the news to the world, it is providing a forum for people to react to it at the very second that the story is unfolding.
A couple years ago, Twitter had a lot of skeptics.  So called experts thought it was a fad, a type of new media with no substance. Boy, were they wrong. Twitter still has its skeptics today. Among them are the many people who just don’t want to give it a chance or who feel it is beneath them. They will purposely mispronounce the name and criticize people who use it. I got news for these people: Twitter is not going anywhere. Educate yourself on it, embrace it, and use it.
Twitter has done a lot of good things for me. It has allowed me to win numerous prizes, receive assistance from major companies when I did not want to deal with phones or long lines,  accelerate my career,  cash in on many exclusive deals and promotions, and make me a more knowledgeable person. It has also helped me further my own personal brand and has introduced me to many contacts. I have also made genuine friends off of Twitter, a couple who are very close to me. Another good thing that Twitter has done for me is pave the way for me to start this blog! One of the main reasons why I started “Don’t Blink” was so it could serve as an extension of my Twitter account. I felt the need to expand on some of my 140 character thoughts.
Reaching my 7,000th tweet today really made me reflect on the above and realize how big of a part Twitter is for me and how crucial it is in society as a whole. So what are you waiting for?! If you already have a Twitter account, start tweeting! If you don’t, sign up for one right now. But most importantly, be sure to follow me!! Send a follow request to @BrentR7 ASAP! Don’t Blink.