The latest news regarding hashtags has the social media world all atwitter. It turns out that Facebook is considering officially adopting the use of hashtags on the platform. It makes sense because people are already using them there. And like the original use of hashtags on Twitter, it is the user base that is driving this change.
While some of my friends are bemoaning this change (“Hashtags don’t belong on Facebook!”) others are embracing it (“It’s about time!”). I have to admit, when I first got on Twitter, I hated hashtags. They drove me nuts. I was seriously anti-hashtag because I didn’t understand their purpose fully. But now, a few years down the line, I love them, when used properly. Like anything else, it is possible to overdo a good thing and overuse hashtags.
Perhaps you’re new to hashtags, or you’ve seen them and have no clue what they are or how they are used. Here’s a quick primer on hashtags and their various uses. Yes, there are quite a few different reasons people use them. If you want, you can spend some time and read a short history of hashtags, which dates back to 2007.
First, and foremost, hashtags are words or phrases that begin with a pound sign (#) as the prefix. By adding that in front of a word on Twitter, it makes the hashtag a clickable link. The original use of hashtags was as a way of organizing information in an easily searchable and readable format. With more than a half-billion tweets flying around the Internet, hashtags allow you to home in on what people are saying about a particular topic of interest. Searching #blogging will pull all of the tweets using that hashtag that are presumably about the topic of blogging.
Here’s a quick rundown of the various ways hashtags can be used on a variety of social platforms from Facebook, Google +, and Twitter to Instagram, Pinterest, and Foursquare, whether they officially support them or not.
1) Organizing and searching via subject – As mentioned above, you can append a tweet with a hashtag such as #blogging, #surfing, or #cooking. Many people will regularly post using subject related hashtags. Clicking on them is a great way to get a quick look at what people are talking about in relation to those topics. This can be a great research tool, and in terms of Twitter (and perhaps Facebook, eventually) you can create lists specific to specific terms.
2) Managing/following events – The original hashtag was related to an event known as #barcamp. When a large number of people gather in one place (or even multiple locations) for an event, an official hashtag is great for harnessing the discussion and helping people find each other. For instance, if you attend a convention, following the official hashtag will let you know what is going on, and you’ll even be able to find and meet other attendees. Of course for those who can’t make the event, they can play along at home by following the hashtag.
3) General context – Often used in connection with other hashtags, these provide some sort of context related to the rest of the post. Someone posting a picture from my town might also include the hashtag #Lancaster, or even another hashtag related to the specific building or scene being depicted.
4) Following shared experiences via conversation – From the finale of The Bachelor to the Oscars or the Super Bowl, we can all watch major events from the comfort of our own homes and share the experience with many others. Many programs and televised events are now promoting an official hashtag as a way of promoting and managing the conversation.
5) Following online chats and discussions – There are many weekly or monthly Twitter chats on just about any topic. Rather than having the conversation get lost in the stream, a hashtag can help you follow along and participate. It’s also great for webinars and other online events. Users can answer questions or pose their own questions related to the guest or topic.
6) Memes – These pop up all over the place when someone just wants to…have fun! Someone might get bored and start using a hashtag to see if it catches on. One popular meme is #replace_____with_____. For instance, with the recent selection of a new pope, a few versions of this meme arose, including #ReplaceMovieTitlesWithPope where one word of a famous movie would be replaced with the word “pope,” i.e. “Gone with the Pope” or “Snow White and the Seven Popes.”
7) Random punchlines – Some hashtags are made up on the spot, with no thought of them ever being more than a personal hashtag. They are just a way of offering a punchline or statement that emphasizes what is being said. For example, I might drop my laptop on the floor and decide to tell the world, followed by the hashtag #ImaKlutz. (Yeah, my examples are lame, but I can’t seem to remember any of the cool ones!). One friend often posts pictures of herself, her children, or some other scene of life with some text and the hashtag #artofmotherhood.
These categories are not comprehensive, and they are also not used exclusively. Sometimes people will use a few of them together, but be cautioned: too many hashtags in a post can be quite annoying. Use them sparingly and in a meaningful way.
In what other ways have you seen hashtags used across various social platforms?
- Hashtags Coming to Facebook (gawker.com)
- 12 Most Definitive Ways to Master Twitter (v3im.com)
- Five Ways to Give Your Business a Human Face Online (inklingmedia.net)
- The Art of Building Community (inklingmedia.net)
- Why A Bunch Of Women Live-Tweeted the Super Bowl [And Why It Matters] (v3im.com)