We talk about hashtags a lot, but we haven’t stepped back to consider the basics in a while. Hashtags are a way for social media users to tag their posts with keywords, which in turn make them easier for social networks to organize and users to search — we all know that.
But where do hashtags came from? How can you use them for your business? Who decided to put a pound symbol in front of a word to start tracking trends across social networks? And maybe the most important question of all: Are hashtags going to stick around for years to come, or are they something that we’ll regret when VH1 takes a look at the 2010s?
Hashtags have become such a common practice these days that people have started using them outside of their intended purpose. People use them in text messages, chats, songs, and advertisements.
- What are hashtags?
- Where did they come from?
- How you can use hashtags
- Creating your own hashtag
- Advertising on trending hashtags
- How can you track and analyze hashtags
- Which social networks use hashtags?
- Are hashtags here to stay?
What Are Hashtags?
hash·tag: A word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it.
So whenever a user adds a hashtag to their post, it is immediately indexed by the social network and searchable by other users. Once someone clicks on that hashtag, they’ll be brought to a page that aggregates all of the posts with the same hashtagged keyword in real-time. Once a keyword picks up enough momentum it becomes known as “trending.” Trending isn’t simply a matter of becoming the most popular hashtag on the networks. Each users’ trending topics is different based on their location and social connections.
Where Did Hashtags Come From?
It may be pretty surprising to hear, but the first use of a hashtag in social media can actually be traced back to one man. Chris Messina, a former Google employee who worked in developer relations and as a designer on Google+, Tweeted the first ever hashtag. This Tweet took place all the way back in 2007, so it took quite a bit to catch on, but when it did, it did in a big way.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina™ (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
How to Use Hashtags
Using a hashtag in a social post is as simple as adding the ‘#’ sign before a single word or phrase without spaces or punctuation (numbers are okay).
- Don’t string too many words together with a single hashtag.
- If you tweet with a hashtag on a public account, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your tweet.
- Don’t #spam #with #hashtags. Don’t over-tag a single tweet.
- Use hashtags only on tweets relevant to the topic.
Though it’s easy to quickly create and send out a post with a hashtag in it, there is some basic etiquette when it comes to using them. We’ll cover some of the advanced ways to use hashtags, but first lets take a step back and look at what Mediabistro put together outlining some of the basic rules for creating a tweet with hashtags. Though it’s easy to create a hashtag, it’s not quite as easy to do it in a correct or relevant way.
Creating Your Own Hashtag
Creating your own hashtag can be a powerful thing. If you do it right, and have a lot of luck on your side, your hashtag will start trending among your circle of followers. Then, whenever someone sees that hashtag they’ll be reminded of your brand. However, there are tons of horror stories online of marketers failing when creating their own hashtag. The key to to creating a hashtag that doesn’t leave you vulnerable is to write it free of ambiguity. It’s important to completely guide how you want the conversation to go, otherwise you’re at the mercy of the Internet. One example of a campaign that did extremely well — it was actually created for Audi by Sprout’s Andy White — was #WantAnR8. Twitter users would use that hashtag to tell Audi why they would want an R8 for the day, and then whoever submitted the best tweet won the opportunity.
Tweets like Bran’s exploded around Twitter, generating a huge buzz for Audi at an extremely low cost.
Advertising on Trending Hashtags
Instead of creating your own hashtags, you have the opportunity to craft Tweets based around trending hashtags in hopes of gaining visibility from users searching that trend. The absolute key thing to remember here is relevance. There are times when a brand attempts to force itself onto users through trending topics when it just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make for a good experience to be seen as an irrelevant ad.
However, when done right, riding a trending hashtag’s coattails can lead to significant payouts. A few weeks ago, the San Diego Comic-Con was going on, and the @LEGOBatmanGame is taking full advantage of this by using the trending #SDCC hashtag to promote their brand, which is completely relevant to this audience.
— LEGO Batman (@LEGOBatmanGame) July 24, 2014
Hashtag Tracking and Analytics
When you’re thinking of hashtags that you could use to engage with your audience, it’s also beneficial to look towards your audience. Find the keywords and hashtags that are already associated with your brand, and bolster the positive ones. With something like Sprout Social’s Twitter Listening Report, it’s easy to find out exactly which terms are being associated with your brand most often.
In this instance we can see that a lot of people are tweeting #smcchchicago at the same time as @SproutSocial. Knowing this, we can start to dive into the conversation and engage with our fans and followers.
Not only are tools like these good for finding new things to tweet about, they’re good for seeing how well your Tweets are performing in general. Easily track retweets, favorites, social reach, and more.
Which Networks Support Hashtags?
Most networks use hashtags in the same basic way; to organize data and make it easier for user consumption. However, each network has a different tweak on how they use them.
Twitter: The network that brought us the hashtag is the most popular site to use it on. Just scrolling through my own feed I see that more than half of the tweets contain a hashtag. You can find the trending topics on the left hand side of your Twitter stream.
Facebook: Clicking a hashtag on Facebook will bring you to a separate page with posts that are visible to you based on the various users’ privacy settings. You’ll also see the different trending topics in the top right hand corner of your News Feed.
Instagram: Hashtagging on Instagram is great if you want to see photos similar to the ones that you’ve taken. Simply hashtag the picture you took and it will create a link to a page with other pictures of the same subject.
Google+: Google+ uses hashtags similar to the other sites, but with one main difference. Google+ will add hashtags to content if they think that it is a relevant and popular keyword. You can always opt-out of this through Google+ if you’d like.
Tumblr: When you’re creating a post on your Tumblr page, you’ll see an area at the bottom asking you to add “tags.” When you start to type a tag for your post, Tumblr will automatically add a hashtag to the front of it.
Pinterest: The main thing that you need to bear in mind when creating hashtags on Pinterest is that they’re only clickable in a Pin description. Also, hashtags aren’t searchable on Pinterest, so you’ll need to just search the keyword to find the content.
YouTube: Hashtag use within YouTube is most prevalent in the comments section. Users can leave comments with hashtags, which will then click through to a page with videos that contain that hashtag in their title.
Kickstarter: On Kickstarter, sorting by different hashtags can make it easier for you to find projects you’d be interested in investing in.
Vine: As a company owned by the creators of the hashtag, you’d better believe that Vine has included the functionality. As with other sites, adding a link to your Vine’s description will bring you to a page with Vine’s on the same topic.
Other Networks that Support Hashtags:
Are Hashtags Here To Stay?
This all brings us back to the most important question: are hashtags here to stay? Seeing as how they’ve been integrated into most of the popular social media platforms, and social media has entered almost every facet of our lives, the answer is yes.
Though they’ve become stigmatized in our culture, hashtags actually do play a vital role on social media when used within reason. Hashtags create incentives for people to categorize their posts, which in turn makes it easier for users looking for posts on the same topic to find content. It’s also an easy way to distribute popular news to groups of people who otherwise may not be actively searching for it.
Michael Patterson: Michael enjoys writing about all things social media, and his insights can be found on Adweek's SocialTimes, Social Media Today and Social Media Examiner. When he isn't pouring over blog posts he can usually be found exploring Chicago's unique neighborhoods and breweries.
What a great article, i have learnt a lot of hashtag, i have never known about hashtag before i came here.
Hi all. Great Post!! My company is running a competition on FB in which the participants, amongst others have to post a picture and use #JLPASSION. This was done so that i could aggregate all participants in one place and then make a draw. The problem is that i just discovered that i may not see certain participants photo and use of the # because of their privacy settings. What do i do, how do i advise them to change their privacy so that i know everyone who
Participated? And also it seems even though MY #settings is set to ANYONE is visible, i only see friends
@Michalis That's a tough one. It would be challenging to sway people into changing their privacy settings solely for a contest, especially for those that aren't quite too familiar with a brand. The best solution for future contests would be to either run a contest on your timeline to keep everything threaded and all in one place, or to use a third-party sweepstakes tool like Wishpond or Shortstack to consolidate entries, that way you won't have to ask entrants to alter privacy settings AND it would mean less searching for you.
Don’t hashtag everything. People tend to use hashtag on every keyword and the whole sentence looks creepy. It has to be avoided. Only important keywords should be used with hashtags.
Best practices recommend using no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet.
My question is if you use a hashtag on Facebook and click on it in twitter or Instagram, will you be able to see what you hashtagged on Facebook if you clicked on it in Instagram or Twitter. Does that make sense? We are having an event soon with bunch of people assigned to take pictures and I'm trying to find a free way to share the pics with everyone involved.
@hurryanwait If you click on a hashtag, it will be platform-specific, meaning you won't be able to see a hashtag's usage on other platforms. One tool I would recommend is Tagboard (https://tagboard.com/) which allows you to see hashtag usage across all the major social platforms. For a list of other tools that will allow you to do this, I recommend checking out this blog post: http://sproutsocial.com/insights/twitter-hashtags/. Hope this helps!
Very nice post, thanks a lot! I wish I could make all my friend read it as they use hashtags as “decorations” for their posts with photos. You know, multiple hashtags without any purpose)
At the beginning of read this post I was only thinking about the hashtags on Twitter but now I have discovered that also some more social media has the opportunity to use it and it is really good because you can know easily about things that you are posting with hashtags too. But I think that hashtags have to be used in a good way, I believe that with hashtags is easier to find more information tan without it but also there are people that don't use hashtag so it seems that this information is lost. As the post said ''it’s easy to create a hashtag, it’s not quite as easy to do it in a correct or relevant way'' so in this sense everybody have to be really patient when they créate a hashtag and wait that it will became more and more relevant but it is not always like this. We have to use hashtags in a good way I mean it is not useful to write 1000 hashtags in a simply photo of instagram if it doesn't give us any information. Information could be written in hashtags to arrive faster to people but in my opinion it would be really good that a filter exists to avoid hashtags without any sense.
I learned a lot with this post! I didn’t know the use of hashtags in Facebook until I read it here. It is true that hashtags has become a very important tool in social media: I always use it to get similar content or know what’s trend on the net at that moment. I think they are a very useful tool to manage social media and get the info that you are searching for more quickly. But also their use become so mainstream, for example, there’s and people just tweeting with hashtags.
I agree with you thinking that they are here to stay because I find it very useful and I think they sum up the spirit of the social media: know everything fast and in just a few words. The simplification of the news is the key of the success of the hashtag.
@Amera Sailani They Amera, in a sense. Try it on your facebook. If Joe Smith is a friend of yours and you type @joesmith it will "tag" him. Hashtags too! If you click on it it will show all facebook posts that are using that tag.
@pollyana2 Hi, there! This is a very popular way for TV shows to converse with their viewers! If you don't have a Twitter account already, you can join any conversation using a specific hashtag by typing in your message followed by the hashtag that they're using. Hashtags can be used on multiple platforms, so be on the lookout for which platform your favorite TV show wants to hear your comments from!
Woe! Your article was really cool, easy to understand and to the point. Thank You so much for the examples / illustrations it helps ppl like myself (ADD) to visualize & follow. I now have a much better understanding of HashTags that I I misunderstood prior to this. I'll follow your articles from here on out
@LornaJBurnsBridges Very happy to hear that, Lorna! We love sharing info that everyone can understand. If you ever have any questions in the future about hashtags (or social media), we'll do our best to help answer them for you!
Thanks for the information. I guess our information society is now most clearly illustrated in the growth and use of social media.
Classic case of can't see the forest through the trees. You are so familiar with hashtags that you failed to tell the user obvious things such as how do you see all the things posted for a specific hashtag, and when you talk about "creating a hashtag" you made it seem like you have to go register it somehow. The details of how exactly to do hashtagging have been omitted.
Super thorough and clear explanation of hashtags, this weeks seems to be all about it ;) Cheers! https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140818161524-11858454-using-hashtags-to-drive-performance-engagement-and-sales?trk=nmp_rec_act_article_detail