Before 2007, people mostly associated the pound sign (#) with the button they had to press to reach an operator on a phone. But after 2007, the humble pound sign morphed into the hashtag and began to sweep across social media.
These days, hashtags can be fun and witty. They can help new followers or fans find your social media posts. But they can also be a major source of embarrassment if a brand or social media influencer uses them incorrectly.
In 2007, few people were unfamiliar with the “#” symbol. It’d been on the dial pads of telephones for years, and had a place of honor above the 3 on QWERTY keyboards. Fans of internet relay chat (IRC) had been using # to sort things into groups since the 1990s.
But it took a tweet from one guy, Chris Messina, to turn the # sign into a social media phenomenon. In August 2007, he innocently asked people what they thought about using # for groups, and things took off from there.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina 🦅 (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
Why is it called a hashtag? Apparently, folks across the pond have been calling the pound sign a hash for years, so the name just made sense.
Reasons to Use Hashtags
Perhaps the biggest reason to use a hashtag is because it makes it easier for people to find your posts. As Facebook puts it, using hashtags creates a clickable link in your posts. A person interested in what you’re sharing can click on the hashtag and be taken to a page full of other posts that all use that same hashtag.
Hashtags also allow you to track social response to a campaign. Pretty much any word or phrase can become a hashtag. If your brand is launching a social media marketing campaign, you can create a hashtag and encourage people to post using it. Once people start using your hashtag, you can look at the number of posts that feature it and use analytics to see how people are responding to those posts.
Choosing the Right Hashtags
Choosing the right hashtag for a single post or for a social media marketing campaign is a mix of art and science. Hashtags can and should be more specific than basic keyword phrases. They are also usually more time sensitive. For example, if you’re a fashion brand launching a new summer line, the hashtag #summerwardrobegoals2017 will make sense.
You don’t have to make up your own hashtags for an influencer marketing campaign. In fact, it often helps to use some of the same hashtags your competitors are using. Doing so can help direct some of your competitor’s followers over to your posts and pages.
Do a bit of research and see what types of posts are using any of the tags you’re considering. The social media world is a big place and you don’t want to accidentally co-opt a hashtag that is commonly used by a group whose politics you disagree with.
You also want to avoid doing a DiGiorno. Back in 2014, the hashtag #whyIstayed was trending on Twitter, allowing people to explain why they remained in abusive relationships. Whoever was manning the DiGiorno account missed the memo, though, and tweeted a joke about having pizza. To say the backlash was swift would be an understatement.
A Few Good Hashtags
Some hashtags are much, much better than others. Take a look at some of the most successful hashtags ever:
#SFBatKid. The best social media posts get people to react in some way, often by appealing to their emotions. Back in 2013, Miles, a five-year-old boy with leukemia, wished to dress up as Batman and have his hometown of San Francisco transformed into Gotham City. The Make a Wish Foundation granted his wish and the entire city (and social media world) got on board with the hashtag #SFBatKid. After just a few days, more than 500,000 tweets were created featuring the hashtag.
#TheDress. People had strong opinions about #TheDress. Was it blue and black or white and gold? It doesn’t really matter. What did matter was that it was the ninth most popular hashtag in 2015, with nearly 4.5 million tweets.
#EsuranceSave30. Here’s a good example of a time-sensitive, relevant post. Right after the football championship in 2014, auto insurance company Esurance aired an ad promising $1.5 million (what the company saved by running their ad right after the game, rather than during it) to one lucky Twitter user who made a tweet using #EsuranceSave30. More than 200,000 people replied within a minute of the ad airing, and by the next morning more than two million people had tweeted. Esurance was able to grow its followers list from just under 9,000 to more than 155,000. Not bad for one hashtag.