In a relatively short period of time, hashtags have become an essential part of the way we communicate information online. In fact, they’ve almost become a separate form of communication unto themselves. They’re used to group and track posts on a specific topic together, but they’re also used to start new trends, play games, or even just to elaborate on a point you’ve made in a post.
Hashtags are most commonly associated with Twitter, but they’ve proven so useful and so popular that they’ve expanded to Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms as well. How and when did all of this get started? Well, it first began a lot earlier than you might think. As far back as 1988, the pound sign (also known as a hash) was used to group relevant information in Internet Relay Chat.
Then in 2007, the idea was picked up again, by open source advocate Chris Messina, who proposed use of the symbol to identify and group information together. The term was coined not long after by blogger and web researcher Stowe Boyd, originally as two words, but quickly shortened into one.
The hash symbol originally was used to facilitate searching for a particular tag manually, in order to find all the tweets that were using it. However, in 2009, Twitter officially integrated hashtags into their site. Use of a hashtag began automatically creating a link to a unique page displaying all posts using that tag. By the next year, Twitter began highlighting popular hashtags on their main page, under the title “Trending Topics.”
As the popularity of the hashtag grew, eventually other social networks followed suit, including Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. Finally, just last year, Facebook jumped on the bandwagon, after a slew of people had already been using them in their posts ironically, accidentally, and in posts automatically imported from other networks.
Hashtags have proven very useful for keeping track of updates and commentary for things like current news events. They’re also a great way for companies and organizations to keep track of feedback from their followers on a particular topic, say for a Q&A, or a call for submissions. And of course, they can be used to encourage discussion among your followers on a particular topic, and to spread the word about a particular event or idea using an easily identifiable tag.
Hashtags aren’t just all business, though. Every so often, someone will pose a hypothetical scenario (e.g. #ifihadasuperpower) or come up with a silly game (e.g. #replacepartofamoviequotewithJamesFranco), and as it catches on and becomes a trending topic, it serves as an invite to unite all of Twitter in a little bit of fun.
Hashtags can be a very useful and very powerful tool, for news, marketing, community building, and more. Used wisely, they can be a tremendous tool to gain exposure for your brand. By harnessing the power of the hashtag, you can reach the entire social media world with your message. What will you say to them?