What's a hashtag, and how do I use one?

Posted by Melissa Brown on February 7, 2017

hashtag-title-for-blog-400px.jpgSometimes social media posts can look like hieroglyphics. To a social media newcomer or a limited user, it can be difficult to even read a social media post and understand what it says, especially with the usage of various symbols in the posts. This week I wanted to take some time and research into the evolution of hashtags. Where did they come from, and what is their purpose? (We'll also share tips for using them effectively.)

A “hashtag” is a word or phrase with a “pound” or “hash” mark in front of it. It’s used in the social media world to identify a key word or topic. A hashtag can be created by anyone at any time, and, once created, it’s immediately indexed by the social media site and searchable by other users. If someone clicks on your hashtag, they’ll be brought to a page that displays all posts or discussions that include that particular topic at that moment in time.

For example, someone clicking on the hashtag #AcademyAwards would go to a page with all the real-time discussions of the Academy Awards at that moment.

Hashtags were born on Twitter. A 2014 SproutSocial blog post says the first tweet with a hashtag dates back to 2007, when Chris Messina, a former Google employee and Google+ designer, tweeted a post suggesting the use of the pound symbol for groups. Today, hashtags are supported by most social networks.

Here are some rules for utilizing hashtags in your social media posts:

1.    There are no spaces allowed.

A hashtag can be a single word, an abbreviation, or a phrase with no spaces between the words. Numbers are okay within the hashtag, but the entire hashtag cannot consist only of numbers.

2.    Start with the # symbol.

The hashtag always begins with the pound symbol. And the full hashtag itself usually comes at the end of a post, but it’s up to the user to place it wherever it makes the most sense within the post.

3.    Keep it short and easy to remember. 

Hashtags work best if they are short and sweet and easy to remember.

4.    Don’t spam with hashtags.

Don’t overuse hashtags in your posts. This is considered bad etiquette, because it can get annoying and make your posts hard to read. Use hashtags only on posts that are relevant to that topic.

Other uses for hashtags

In addition to making content easier to find, what are other uses of hashtags?

Hashtags for business
This 2013 article by smallbiztrends.com shares some great ideas on how small business owners can use hashtags to help their businesses. They recommend using hashtags for things like social media contests, online networking with peers and hosting Twitter chats, all things that can help contribute directly to the bottom line.

Hashtags for humor
As you peruse social posts, you might notice people including hashtagged words and phrases like #blessed or #thestruggleisreal, etc. These hashtags aren't being used for any particular campaigns. They're simply a way for people to express themselves, make a joke or be sarcastic. Not sure what I mean? Check out this Late Night with Jimmy Fallon sketch that he did with Justin Timberlake on hashtags, and you'll get the idea. 

All joking aside, hashtags really do have a purpose. It’s worth it to give them a try!

Topics: socialmedia, social media

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