If you’re on any one of the major social media sites, you’ve probably noticed the rise and rise of hashtags — those short links preceded by the # symbol. You may be a hashtag fanatic or you may see them as unnecessary and maybe even a bit confusing. Love them, hate them, but don’t ignore them… because hashtags are fast becoming an integral part of how we communicate online. So it’s a good idea to have an understanding of which social media platforms support them and therefore how to use them to take full advantage. In this blog post I’ve done my best to summarise the need-to-know bits garnered from my web research (special thanks to mashable.com) and my own user experiences.
On Twitter, the hash turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link. This allows you to organise content and monitor topics based on those keywords. So, if you wanted to post about the upcoming X Factor grand final, you would include #xfactor in your tweet to join the conversation. Click on a hashtag to see all the posts that mention the subject in real time.
The hashtag’s use began with Twitter but has since extended to other social media platforms. In 2007, developer Chris Messina proposed, in a tweet, that Twitter begin grouping topics using the hash symbol. Twitter initially rejected the idea. The practice of hashtagging really took off when citizen journalists began using the hashtag #SanDiegoFire to tweet updates on a series of forest fires in San Diego, just as Fire & Rescue NSW (@firerescuensw) is using the hashtag #FRNSW in their tweets to keep users informed of the current bush fire crisis sweeping NSW.
Which characters can you include in a #hashtag?
Spaces are an absolute no-go and will render your hashtag useless. If your hashtag contains multiple words, group them all together with NO SPACES. Use capital letters to differentiate between words in your hashtag, e.g. #SharpeDesignSolutions. Uppercase letters will not alter your search results, so searching for #SharpeDesignSolutions will yield the same results as #sharpedesignsolutions.
Numbers are supported but punctuation marks are not. So don’t use apostrophes, commas, full stops, exclamation or question marks or any other special characters such as asterisks or ampersands.
# and @ … like apples and oranges!
While the hash symbol generates a searchable link, the @ symbol does something completely different. Using @ before a person’s Twitter handle will message them directly and using the @ symbol on Instagram will allow you to tag a person directly, much like tagging a friend in a Facebook post. A hashtag will not.
Which social media platforms support hashtags?
Most major social media platforms support hashtags, including:
Twitter – the birthplace of modern hashtag usage
Facebook – recently added in June 2013 for desktop only (not clickable on mobile, yet)
Instagram – used to complement shared photos and help you discover new accounts and pick up followers
Google+ – when you click on a hashtag in Google+, the search results will include the original hashtag as well as posts with similar tags and keywords
Pinterest – simply used to mark and search for content
Tumblr – posts have a special “Tag” section where you can enter tags. These tags function like Twitter hashtags, organising posts by topic, but the hash symbol is inserted automatically. Hashtags included in the main body of a post are not transformed into links.
If you’re curious which hashtags are trending across social media, visit Hashtags.org to see which tags are hot right now.
Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my two favourite, humble hashtags and hope for the best: #SharpeDesignSolutions #CreativeThinking.
Happy hashtagging everyone!
Author: Jody Sharpe, Sharpe Design Solutions
Jody Sharpe has over 20 years experience in marketing & branding and is passionate about helping local small businesses grow.