‘A word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications, especially Twitter, to identify messages on a specific topic.’ (Oxford Dictionary)
‘Used in social media to identify messages on a specific topic/theme.’ (Unknown)
Social media users will undoubtedly have come across the hashtag (#) symbol, especially if they have a Twitter account. Twitter is where the first # came into play and remains the principle site for its use.
Before continuing, it should be noted the # symbol is often referred to as a ‘pound’ sign within the United States of America. This should not be confused with the British ‘£’ sign.
The # symbol was originally used within technological systems to identify special meanings and had no general public usage.
In August 2007 the suggestion was made, because lay users did not know how to navigate round the system, for Twitter to adopt the symbol as a means of tagging topics of similar interest. Twitter management could not see this would be of any real use so did not adopt the idea.
In October 2007, users, of their own volition, started using the symbol in tweets regarding the Southern California San Diego forest fires (#SanDiegoFire). However, Twitter still did not adopt its use.
In 2009-2010, users commenced the general use of the # within tweets relating to the concurrent Iranian election protests.
In July 2009, probably realising how effective their users where finding the use of the #, Twitter began to hyperlink #’s in tweets. They subsequently went on to list ‘Trending Topics’ identified by consistent use of hashtaged (spelling uncertain; some use two ‘g’) swords/descriptions.
As already noted, the # symbol may be used to identify topics of specific, similar or related interest.
A hashtaged word or phrase can have the equivalent impact as a keyword (see SEO – Keywords).
Hashtags are searchable. A search result will usually not only display tweets within which the same # word/phrase has been used but also accounts based upon the interest represented by the # tag.
Consistent, high volume use of a hashtag will eventually identify the subject as one of trending interest (A Trending Topic).
Hashtags are not registered or controlled.
Anyone may create them.
A hashtag may consist of more than one word. However, the following constraints need to be observed:
Spaces: There can be no spaces between words. If there are, only the first word will be recoded as hashed which may mean the intended subject/topic of discussion will be overlooked. Where there is more than one word, the user may identify each by entering the first letter of each word in uppercase e.g. #ElectionBroadcast.
Numbers: These may be used but again, without any space between them and any word(s) e.g. #No10.
Punctuation: Cannot be used. The system will neglect any such hashtag.
Users, if they are not to be considered spammers or do not wish to be banned from a service, must ensure they use #’s appropriately. They must ensure they are relevant and on topic.
It is acceptable and possible, to create unique #’s. Users will undoubtedly want to do this when they wish to draw attention to their own interests. Nevertheless, they should be careful not to mistakenly utilise these to just ‘push’ their own services or products. People will be deterred very quickly if the hashtag is seen to be aggressively ‘promoting’ the instigators own interests.
The length of a hashtag should be carefully considered. Though others may be interested in the topic/subject and may even wish to add their own contribution, they will not want to have to enter lengthy #’s. Remember, there is a one hundred and forty (140) character limitation within Twitter.
Before creating a new # it is worthwhile checking to see if it has been used previously. This may be determined by utilising the simple search option. Users should note, if they decide to utilise a # that has already been used widely their content may become lost within any search result. Consequently, it may serve no purpose to adopt the same #. They are advised to try and find their own unique one.
Statistics have shown it is advisable to generally include ONLY one or two #’s within a tweet. Three is definitely the maximum. Any more and readers are more than likely to ignore the tweet and related content.
It has been noted many users now use #’s to draw attention to humour (satirical and otherwise), comments, etc. Society has changed and it appears this behaviour and intent does attract some and seems to be affective but to what end the writer is unsure.
Facebook: Following the eventual success within Twitter, there was an attempt to utilise the # within Facebook. However, though it is usable within the site, it really has not taken off to the same degree or, to be honest, anywhere near to the same degree, as Twitter. Nevertheless, it is available within Facebook. Users need to note, the result of any search of a hashtag within the Facebook system will only display posts, within which the # has been used and that have been shared with the user. It should also be noted, within Facebook, if there are more than two (2) hashtags within a post it will be treated as having a lower engagement.
Pinterest: Pinterest recommends NOT using hashtags because it automatically searches for related topics depending upon the image identification. The system prefers users include keyword rich descriptions with pins so as to identify the subject matter.
Instagram: Again, the system prefers users to focus upon descriptions that it then uses to find and display similar material. Nevertheless, #’s may be used and may be searched.
G+: Hashtags are useable within the system. Nevertheless, there is no guidance within the help pages with respect to hashtags. The implication: they do not really use #’s to identify associated material. It is possible to click on a hashed word/phrase and see related items but most of the time these simply feed back to the site where the tag originated.
Linkedin: Though users may choose to include #’s they are not clickable within the Linkedin system. Consequently, it is superfluous to use them in this site.
Blog Posts: This whole discussion arose as a consequence of a question posed by a reader of this blog. They asked about using hashtags within blog posts. Reading between the lines, it was apparent they were asking whether a # within such posts would crosslink with ones utilised in other social media sites e.g. would all the hashtag references be shown in a # search of any site. Answer: NO. Research into two of the main blogging sites, WordPress and Blogger has shown neither provide for hashed content. These along with other blogsites, provide for ‘tags’ to be added to a post. It is these ‘tags’ that are utilised to locate same or similar content across blog posts.
There may be other sites which allow the use of the hashtag but, going by the above information, it is unlikely they would be of any real use. Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram remain the principle sites where a # may have any real impact or purpose.
Provided used correctly, hashtags may have their uses within some social media sites.
Users need to be circumspect about how they utilise the #.
Twitter remains the principle, and most useful, site for using hashtags.
Hashtags do NOT cross-link. They can be useful within each individual site but not further abroad.
In an effort to encourage ‘background’ chatter, there is now a tendency for reality, contestant and news television programmes to display hashtags on screen. Viewers may utilise these in their social media accounts to follow current discussions. Whether useful or not is left to the consideration of the user; the writer has never utilised these TV #’s.
Within web and blog sites, the ‘tag’ still has priority and, overall, may prove the most useful for users.
Whatever a user’s opinion hashtags have their place but a user would be wise not to rely upon them exclusively. Discussion and interaction is by far the best way to engage with other people, customers, readers and fans.