Think you know everything there is to know about hashtags? From the Romans to social media today, the hash sign has an interesting history. The little symbol that looks like a noughts and crosses board has a multitude of names including hash, pound, number, octothorpe, crosshatch and hex and throughout history has been used as the Latin for pound, on the telephone for connecting to computer systems and most recently on social media.
Today the word hashtag refers to a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # which in turn categorises social media posts. The origin of the word ‘hash’ lies in Latin and French. In Latin it is a variant of ‘hatch’ meaning ‘to inscribe with parallel lines’ as in ‘hatchure’ and ‘cross-hatch’, while the old French word ‘hacher‘ means ‘to chop’, with the meal called ‘hash’ so named because it contains chopped meat. Since the 1300s the symbol has also meant pound which was abbreviated as lb but over time, as it was jotted down more and more quickly, transformed into #.
Later as telephones evolved from dials to buttons, hash keys began to appear on telephone keypads too, enabling access to telephone based computer systems, for example when you telephone your bank and are asked to use the hash key to carry out a transaction. Then, in 1988, the hash symbol was used on an instant messaging system called Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to group similar topics, so making it easier for users to find the information they were looking for.
However it was the use of the hash symbol on Twitter which really saw hashtags take off. On 23 August 2007, Chris Messina is credited with posting the first Twitter hashtag #BarCamp and on 20 October 2007, sudden bushfires in the San Diego region of California used the hashtag #SandiegoFire which continues to be used during anniversaries of the 2007 events and any time fires happen again in San Diego. In 2009 Twitter then introduced a search tool, so users could see who else was using a particular hashtag and the following year introduced ‘Trending Topics’ which display the most popular hashtags at a given time.
How do hashtags work
On social media adding a hashtag to the beginning of an unbroken word or phrase creates a post which becomes linked to all other posts that include the same hashtag, allowing people to easily follow topics they are interested in. Hashtags may come about organically as a result of say events reported by the media, for example #MeToo, #PartyGate and #WagathaChristie or companies may create their own hashtags for example Marks and Spencer use #MagicAndSparkle and #PercyPigmas. Television shows also create their own hashtags to encourage people to tweet about their programmes while watching, for example Strictly Come Dancing uses #Strictly.
How to use a hashtag
Hashtags are a great way to get your business in front of people and gain social media followers. Below are some ideas for getting the most out of hashtags.
Consider what hashtags you want to be known for and who you want to attract, then make a list of potential hashtags, choosing words or phrases that are relevant to your business and the message you want to convey.
Custom hashtags are hashtags that are unique to your business. This could be your business name for example #IzzyWizzy, tagline, product name or the services you provide. Keep them simple, short and catchy.
Check out your competition
Look for the people in your area of work who are popular on social media. What hashtags are they using and what are they using them for?
Take time to regularly check what hashtags are trending. There may be a hashtag you can jump on to promote your business. There may also be global or national days that relate to your area of work. Research what they are and create social media posts about them to promote what you do.
Daily hashtags are popular hashtags, designed to share a common thread with anyone on social media. These include things such as #MotivationMonday, #ThrowbackThursday and #FeelGoodFriday.
Narrow down your selection
Once you have gone through the above steps you will most probably need to narrow down your selection. Which of the hashtags are relevant to your business and your overall goals. Hashtag popularity is one thing to consider but by using a lesser used hashtag which is still relevant to your business, you will have more chance of being found.
How many hashtags
Social media platforms have different optimum hashtag numbers but don’t use hashtags for the sake of it. It is better to use a few well thought out ones than a load that will reach an audience you really don’t want. Consider using a combination of the different types of hashtags described above and if you have a large list of hashtags you want to use, consider segmenting them into groups and rotating their use.
Research, test, tweak
Well thought out hashtags are a great way to get your business in front of people. Research, test and tweak hashtag combinations to see what hashtags work best for you. Time and effort spent doing this will pay you back in the long term. Check also to make sure your desired hashtag isn’t being used in a negative context and be aware that social media platforms may ban hashtags temporarily or permanently, so always carry out research before using a new hashtag.
Research will help you find trending topics and hashtags that fit well with your business and make your posts more discoverable. Keep in mind, hashtags are not case sensitive, but adding capital letters does make them easier to read for example #TheBigSunflowerProject versus #thebigsunflowerproject. See the blog post below for more information on this.
Hashtags can be an incredibly powerful way of communicating a message, reaching and engaging large numbers of people, gauging the mood on a particular topic, bringing people together and making things happen, so give them a go and see what they can do for you.
- Hashtag History: When and what it started
- Pixart printing: The hash symbol – the secrets of the symbol made famous by Twitter
- Simon J. Piatek: #sandiegofire – the first successful hashtag
- The Guardian: Why is the ‘hash key’ on the telephone so called
- The Newstatesman: The journey and many faces of the hash symbol
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