With recent viral videos like “#Hashtag with Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake”, the hashtag is beginning to get a bad rep. Is it all fun and games, or is there value in the hashtag?
The hashtag was born as a means to gather and label messages as belonging to a specific group or topic used by the Internet Relay Chat (IRC). However, from a more social standpoint we know the hashtag as starting on microblogging channel, Twitter in 2007 when Chris Messina tweeted:
From that day forward, a new social media power tool was born.
The hashtag has the same function today as it did when Chris Messina first brought it to Twitter. Hashtags include hyperlinks that help users connect with other users’ posts by clicking into these searchable links. These hashtags provide a dynamic feed and perpetuate overtime, giving that specific hashtag a rich history for users to look back on.
So why do we REALLY need the hashtag?
Because of this function of connectability with the hashtag, users can explore related posts connecting them to people and conversations that are relevant to them. This narrows down channels in which users can add value to current conversations and allows them to position themselves as experts in these conversations.
But it doesn’t stop there, these connections allow distance to no longer be an issue, allowing people to communicate with each other across the globe, breaking down global barriers and encouraging learning from different cultures, opinions and ideas across the globe.
Hashtags provide a real-time feed of breaking news, emergencies, events, etc. The real-time functionality of hashtags helps users identify trends and also keeps people informed on important events sometimes before the news can report on such events. For example, in 2007 the hashtag #SanDiegoFire helped people stay updated on the progress of the fire quicker than they could be updated by news channels.
From a business standpoint, hashtags are a resource that remains somewhat untapped. Users understand that hashtags are being utilized but do they know what hashtags can do for business?
The linkabililty of the hashtag allows users to click into the mass conversations of hashtags to search for relevant leads within a specific hashtag. This provides businesses with a new way to find leads and connect with people on a social level, allowing them to get their product or service in front of new and relevant customers from a social standpoint.
One good starting point that I found was a site called Tagboard.com, which collects hashtags from some of the most popular social channels including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and Vine.
Hashtags Vary By Social Network
Now, while you may be excited to go out there and utilize the functionality of the infamous hashtag, keep in mind that different platforms support the hashtag in different ways and some platforms may have greater success with the hashtag than others.
As the predecessor for all other channels’ utilization of the hashtag, Twitter hashtags help identify “trending topics,” as shown on the left side of your Twitter feed. Searching for tweets within Twitter you can filter between tweets from “People you follow,” “All” tweets, or “Top” tweets.
As one of the newest social media platforms, hashtags have become very popular on this platform due to the nature of pairing pictures with hashtags. Users can connect hashtags and conversations in a visual way. In addition, Instagram has utilized hashtags to popularize different photo trends such as #ThrowbackThursday or #tbt where on Thursdays, users posts pictures of themselves from back in the day. These photo trends have quickly gained popularity and have expanded to include different photo themes for every day of the week.
In general, Google+ is underutilized, but the important thing to realize here is when using hashtags on Google+, you are increasing your SEO value on the search engine giant, so it is worth utilizing. For example, searching on Google.com using a hashtag, the search would produce a typical Google search on the left side of the page, and search results for the hashtag within Google+ in real-time on the right side of the page. Google also gives you the option to search the hashtag in Twitter and Facebook.
Hashtags are a new function for Facebook, as of June 2013. The functionality of the hashtag is the same on Facebook as that of the other social channels, but users have not made the Facebook hashtag a success because of the way they use Facebook as a means to passively scroll through content, searching very little if at all.
With Pinterest, users can search for a hashtag within Pinterest to see other pinner’s activity surrounding that specific hashtag and hashtags that users feel are similar to the one you have searched. Hashtags are included in the description of the pin.
Hashtag Dos & Donts
Like all other things, too much of a good thing can be bad. I have compiled some general DO’S & DON’TS before you go ‘hashtag happy’ on your followers:
DO spell things correctly. Nuthing kils kredibilitie lik mispeling (see what I mean? What an eyesore!)
DO promote your brand by utilizing a specific hashtag for events or ad campaigns or conversations where you want input. This gets users involved at the event or while cruising by your ad, which will show their followers how much fun they are having at your event, and likewise increase buzz about your brand! The Nets did an excellent job at creating awareness about their move to Brooklyn by utilizing #HelloBrooklyn on different avenues (Literally!).
DO make sure your hashtags are relevant to the message you are trying to convey.
DON’T include TOO many hashtags to the point where your followers will think you are spamming them. It is recommended no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet/Post.
DON’T hashtag punctuation. This doesn’t work and will therefore kill the idea of the hashtag by breaking it up. However, using numbers in a hashtag does work.
DON’T string too many words together in one hashtag. If you must, capitalize the first letter of each word, as you cannot add spaces (or punctuation). #whatareyoutryingtoconveytoyourfollowers
DON’T tag each individual word in your post. #This #Looks #Like #Spam #And #Your #Followers #Will #Not #Engage #With #You
Now you are ready to take the hashtag world by storm, ready to fully utilize its powers for good! Go out there and #JoinTheConversation.