Screenshot from Twitter user, understandblue, who writes a #moonfruit haiku.
Twitter can be awesome place to find links, read news, and keep tabs on distant friends. But for new users, one of the more disorienting things is when friends start tweeting about "#moonfruit" and "#squarespace." What are these strange words/sayings and why do your good friends (not companies, celebrities, or spammers) insist on confusing you with a jumble of words proceeded by a pound sign (a hashtag)?
In short, your friends are entering giveaway contests. Normally you enter a giveaway or raffle by providing your information in an entry form. Running a giveaway on Twitter adds social media to the mix. To enter, you must broadcast your contest entry to your friends, thereby encouraging friends to enter too. For instance, to participate in the Moonfruit giveaway for a free MacBook Pro, you must include the tag "#moonfruit" in your Twitter post. The barriers to entry are particularly low, even lower than spending your time writing down your address and phone number on paper. The companies bank on a viral effect to catapult their brand on to Twitter's "trending topics," a leader board of buzz on Twitter.
It's smart. Companies realize that you're much more likely to pay attention to marketing from your friends than from a company. And most don't realize you inadvertently enter yourself and boost the popularity of the contest when you use Twitter to ask others what #moonfruit or #squarespace means in the first place.
What The Hashtag?! tries to be the authoritative source on popular hashtags. They can tell you what #turnon, #shamwow, and #140mafia mean without having to ask. It can help sort out the hashtag madness.
Twitter users have come up with some creative ways to use the keyword without shouting "I am entering a contest!" For Moonfruit, many entrants tweet a variation on "eating #moonfruit." Once you know the odd phrases are all about a giveaway contest, you realize it's just friend spam in the pursuit of "free" stuff.
UPDATE: My colleague Wright Bryan sent me a link to this article: Hashtag contests are hurting Twitter. It claims that Moonfruit's campaign will spawn clones. But the implication for Twitter users is that we have a choice:
...bear through it, or unfollow someone. Getting spammed three messages at a time by half of my users is a painful thing to sit through, because I'd rather not block or unfollow these people. Twitter...has only people who refuse to play such games to help prevent it from being a wasteland of useless hashtag promotions and nothing more.