It seems there is an outpouring of hate for one of the internet’s most useful tools: the hashtag.
I’m not exactly sure when or where this abhorrence emerged, but I feel like I come into more daily contact with people who think the hashtag is “pointless”, “stupid”, or downright “dumb”. I’ve also heard that the hashtag is for “unintelligent people who are lazy.” I’m not exactly sure where the lazy part comes from, but I’m just going to allow those people to sit back and believe what they want.
Only if these naysayers knew what the hashtag did, they would be discovering content they probably wouldn’t have found before. In fact, the hashtag is just another option to promoting and discovering content. But what do I know? I’m dumb.
Let me back up and briefly describe what the hashtag is and then I’ll move onto why it’s more useful than what the naysayers think…
Brief Origins of the Hashtag
Back in the early days of Internet Relay Chats (IRC), the hashtag was used to organize groups and topics provided by users. This allowed users to choose a specific topic, hop into that forum or chat and begin to talk shop within that niche.
Fast forward to the days of Twitter, the hashtag was implemented in a similar fashion where people could utilize it to organize popular topics within the Twitter stream. In other words, users could create tweets with their own topics by appending a keyword after the hashtag. So if one used or created “#HipHopMusic” or “#VintageJacksonFive” (sans quotation marks) these terms would be categorized into a group of other tweets that would house the same hashtag term.
When a term became “hashtagged”, it became clickable in your Twitter feed to direct you to other tweets that contained the exact same hashtag. The same process was (and still is) applied when a person viewed tweets and hashtags from their smartphone. All they had to do was tap the hashtag and they were directed to a group of worldwide tweets that were all following the same conversation.
Hashtags for Discovery
Searching for hashtags are as simple as placing a keyword term or hashtagged term inside the social network’s search engine. It’s simple.
Once you’ve searched for a keyword/hashtag, you can engage with the tweet by A.) responding to the originator of the tweet or B.) retweet (a fancy term for “forward”) the post to show up in your own Twitter feed. If you’re retweeting something, it means you find something so interesting that you want your friends to see it too.
A person could go into Twitter and search for thousands of hashtags only to discover content that would have likely not been found any other way. Sure, a person could Google “NBA Finals” and would likely be given a list of the latest NBA scores (if the season is in session). Furthermore, the same person would be given a list of articles or websites that talked about the “NBA Finals” located in the said Google search results.
Within a social network like Twitter, one could search out, “#NBAFinals” and a list of tweets/conversations would be populated that contained the hashtag and the keyword term. As you can see below, I placed “#NBAFinals” in the search bar of Twitter and received keyword/hashtag results from users that had “#NBAFinals” or “NBA Finals” (sans hashtag) in their update.
Remember, searching for keywords or hashtags allows a user to track conversations within the social network. It also allows a person to find new friends with common interests, uncover news that you wouldn’t get from any other website, or promote a brand’s message.
Hashtags Inside Facebook
Up until the beginning of June 2013, hashtags were available on most social networks with the exception of Facebook. This means that content on Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, LinkedIn Instagram and Tumblr were all curating content that was discoverable as long as status updates were viewable to the public.
Although you’d see an occasional Facebook status update that contained a hashtag, it did nothing inside of the network prior to June 2013. Now that it is available, status updates with photos or articles appended to them can now be discoverable if a hashtag is somewhere inside of the said update. Below is an example of a public update that is now indexed inside of Facebook and will show up in any of the following forums that I have hashtagged.
There seems to be a general distaste for over-utilizing hashtags inside of any type of update. In other words, if I post an Instagram photo of some cool-looking clouds at sunset during monsoon season, I would set forth slurry of hashtags related to what that picture is all about:
#clouds #cloudporn #sunset #arizona #arizonahighways #desertsouthwest #phoenix #monsoon #rain #mountains #instagramaz #igers #instaaz #photooftheday #picoftheday #bestoftheday #editfever
I could go on and on with the numbers of hashtags I could put into my update as long as I’m making it relevant to what my picture is all about.
Can you overuse hashtags? Surely, but only if the hashtags are irrelevant to your post. However, rules are meant to be broken and I sometimes append an irrelevant–yet popular hashtags that I’ve seen in my general online travels–term that can be indexed for more eyes to see.
I always tell people that if they have a problem with my hashtags, they can unfollow what I’m doing because I’m not going to stop. Placing hashtags inside of my updates are doing me some good for promoting my cause and my brand.
Although I don’t have thousands of followers on Instagram, I can say that nearly 70% of the 1,000 people who have followed me have been the result of my photos being publicly hashtagged over the course of a month.
How do I know which hashtags to use?
Generally, your content becomes more discoverable if you’re posting with a hashtag that is popular. For example, if I were to write a blog about beekeeping, I would probably want that update to look something like this:
“I learned a lot from Gary’s workshop on #beekeeping and why there is only one entrance inside a nest. Thanks for all your hard work, Gary!
#Bees #Honey #Beeswax”
How did I come up with these hashtags? For this particular update, those keywords are more about common sense than finding a popular keyword. However, in the beekeeping world, “#beekeeping” is probably popular amongst those who are within that niche.
After this public update is posted inside a network, the post itself is now indexed for search. Therefore, other people interested in beekeeping could go into the search bar, enter “#beekeeping” and find posts that are related. Further, other discoverable users might include different–and more popular–hashtags that you didn’t know about. Therefore, it’s best that you go into your social network’s search engine and explore hashtags or keyword terms that could help you when you promote your brand or cause.
Hashtags for Marketeers
For a new online Markeeter, it would be wise to create your own hashtag to draw awareness to a company promotion or cause. Just last week, I happened to stop by a 7-Eleven convenience store and noticed the following on their promotional signage:
It’s hard to see in this photo, but if you were to look at the text below the hashtag, 7-Eleven Marketeers placed a link to their website “http://www.7-eleven.com/awesummer” describing the promotion and its offer. Furthermore, 7-Eleven provides a clickable button at the bottom of the web page that will generate a pop-up explaining all about “Awesummer” and the “pound sign thingy”. For purposes of this particular promotion, it seems 7-Eleven focuses on pushing their audience to utilize Twitter. They haven’t been active on Google Plus since 2011 and Facebook hashtags rolled out this month, so it makes logical sense that they would push users to tweet.
This hashtag is a smart marketing move to draw awareness to their brand once users take full advantage of this promotion and start hashtagging “#Awesummer” when they tweet. Once 7-Eleven sees these tweets, they have the option to search out these hashtags and engage with their audience by thanking these hashtagging fans.
The hate for hashtags will probably never go away until people continue to be educated about its usage. The only way this happens is if well-known brands continue to draw awareness to their cause by including hashtagging promotions for consumers. In the meantime, those who aren’t experiencing hashtags–users and Marketeers–are only forming an average experience for themselves.
Do you hate or not hate hashtags?
If you use hashtags, what are some of the ways you’ve utilized them in your searches or promotions? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.