We all use them, some of us much more than others. The number symbol -- or pound sign, depending on the context and region -- originally gained its social prominence on Twitter. Over time, it's become the de facto standard for tagging and grouping relevant topics together throughout social media.
In most cases, a hashtag makes your social update clickable and thereby interactive, enabling other users to follow a conversation, event or other trending topics. But hashtags create a lot of noise as well, with many users unavoidably slipping into the habit of crafting long-winded jokes or jabs following a hash. #SoDontOverdoIt.
"The hashtag has kind of become a little bit like a running joke," says HubSpot Chief Marketing Officer Mike Volpe. "I feel like people are generally overdoing it."
The Evolution of the Hashtag
Before discussing how to use hashtags for the utmost benefit, it's worth understanding what exactly is a hashtag and how its role in social media has evolved.
Stacy Minero, head of content planning at Twitter, describes hashtags as a simple way to group conversations.
"If somebody puts a hashtag in front of a trend or a topic, they're assigning some personal meaning to it." she tells CIO.com. "That means that others can search the hashtag, they can follow a conversation or they can join in. It's a gateway to discover something that's entertaining or inspiring," and it lets you "catalog conversations."
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
Facebook Comes Late to the Hashtag Party
Facebook didn't formally embrace hashtags until last June, almost six years after the first hashtag appeared on Twitter. But the leading social platform has come around, defining hashtags much the same - an easy way to discover and join conversations about specific topics.
"When we discovered the large volume of people using Facebook to discuss things going on in the world around them - like news, sports and entertainment - we became excited about building a product to make it easier for people to discover and join those conversations," says Allison Swope, product manager at Facebook. "Over time, hashtags have become integral to other products on Facebook, like trending topics, as well as to our recently announced hashtag counter API.
While the definition of hashtags hasn't evolved, adoption among both consumers and marketers has changed over time. "From an advertising standpoint, we're seeing more versatility in the way that hashtags are being utilized," Minero says.
Marketers increasingly anchor their brands to hashtags by creating content around specific events, or by developing participatory programs that invite people to discover or create content. "We're seeing brands start to integrate hashtags as part of a holistic campaign. You'll see them plugged into TV spots [and] incorporated into print and even into out-of-home advertising," Minero says. "It's become more like a cross-channel call to action versus something that just sits within the social space."
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.