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 organise and users to search—we all know that.
But where do hashtags come 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.
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.
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).
Most networks use hashtags in the same basic way; to organise 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.