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  • Timothy Lord

What is a hashtag?

If you are like most people who spend a good amount of hours every day on the Internet, you may have come across the terms “#selfie” or “#OOTD.” You may have also stumbled upon socially relevant and controversial posts that have “#BLM” or “#MeToo” in them.


Posts and content are grouped categorically, thanks to hashtags. The well-known number sign maintained a labeling system that makes it easy for users to navigate similar posts. The hashtags also proved that it is a useful tool by those engaged in the businesses as it helps them build a following and identify their audience.


If it weren’t for the hashtags, it would have been hard for relevant tweets to have millions of reaches.


And while Twitter had been the trailblazer and trendsetter when it comes to hashtags, other social media platforms also started using hashtags to label their posts. It was a revolutionary algorithm for social media users to include their posts in a community or a trend.


But what is a hashtag really, and how did it become an integral part of social media platforms? In this article, you will know about the history of hashtags, its purpose, some rules about using the hashtag, and some useful tools you can use to up your hashtag game.


What is a hashtag?


Before being known as the hashtag of modern social media, the world simply knew it as a number sign. There was also a discrepancy as to the terms used in reference to the “#” symbol. While America, Canada, and the rest of the world referred to it as the number sign, other countries such as England, call it hash.


But with the advent of modern technology and social media, the hashtag had made a new identity for itself. Simply put, a hashtag is a label for content. It can cluster, classify, and categorize related posts to a particular topic. This algorithm also makes it easier for people to surf Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as they look for contents that are directly related to a specific topic.


Overview of the history of hashtags


The IRC and the hashtag


Before as a label for social media content and posts, the “#” served a different function. The younger generation may not be familiar with that, as most of them consider that the hashtags’ primary purpose is to create an efficient filing system for posts.


Before the world of social media, the number sign was commonly used in programming and information technology. It was in 1988, the Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a system developed for chatting, was looking for a way to label groups and topics available in their system. To do this, they came up with the “#” sign for marking the groups and issues, making it for people to access the information they want to look for.


Twitter and how the hashtag spread like wildfire


Eventually, it took some time before there was any real progress in the history of hashtags. This was the setup until Twitter was founded in 2006. Creator and CEO Jack Dorsey created a microblogging platform that allows users to post contents in a limited number of characters.

At the time, Twitter did not actually have a feature that labels tweets. Users aired out how unorganized the tweets are, and how everything felt like it was all over the place.


Taking inspiration from the IRC labeling system, actor and film director Chris Messina thought of using the number sign as a way of labeling tweets per topic. “How do you feel about using # for groups[?],” the revolutionary tweet posted on August 21, 2007, read.


Hashtags, 2009 to present


However, the hashtag didn’t make its way as Messina had envisioned until the California wildfire in October 2007. Twitter user Nate Ritter was tweeting a lot at the time about the California wildfire. Messina tapped Ritter to include “#SanDiegoFire” whenever he posts a relevant tweet about the fire.


Other users followed suit and used the #SanDiegoFire in their related tweets as well. Messina had succeeded in integrating the hashtag as a labeling and classification system on Twitter.

It took Twitter two years before including the hashtag feature in their search system. The following year, Twitter also introduced the “Trending Topics.” This section displays the popular hashtags and tweets which use the said hashtags.


The rest was history: the hashtag labeling feature had made it staple in most social media platforms. Instagram was the next to follow the footsteps of Twitter in using hashtags for grouping their posts in 2010. And in 2011, Facebook also started using hashtags for clustering posts.

Currently, hashtags have been a staple in navigating and using social media. Among the platforms that use hashtag are Tumblr, Pinterest, and even the latest fad that is TikTok.


What is the point/purpose of a hashtag?


For labeling purposes


Since its creation by the IRC, the hashtag symbol was used for labeling purposes. They needed to develop a system for the topics of the chat.


The hashtag symbol made its resurface into the social media sphere when a Twitter user suggested using it to categorize tweets of the same topic.


It was not even the brainchild of Twitter to incorporate hashtags in their system. Irritate users, Messina included, were just looking for an organized and systemized way to explore tweets related to the ones they were tweeting. They weren’t really expecting that it would take a wildfire before Messina’s idea was put into use.


To increase your brand’s presence in social media platforms


Aside from labeling and grouping posts of related topics, there are also other reasons for using the hashtag. If you’re just a small and starting business, you can promote your brand’s online presence and generate more leads using hashtags.


Reach your target audience


Whether you’re running a traveler account who logs travel documentation and pictures on Instagram or a company establishing its social media presence, hashtags can help you identify your target audience.


To voice out support for social and relevant issues


Gone were the times when the Internet was just for entertainment. It had also become a venue to voice out support. Movements such as #BLM calls to put an end to systemic racism in America, and the #MeToo movement


Are there any rules for using hashtags?


Hashtags are among the most common social media features and a very easy one to use. If you’ve long been surfing around the net, you pretty much already know the rules of using hashtags.

However, if you are just a social media novice, worry not because you would be able to use the hashtags. When you want to label your tweet, post, or pics, here are a few tips you should keep remember.


Starting with the “#” sign itself, make sure that it is placed before the keywords.

It’s also important that your account is on public. Other users and people will not be able to see your posts if you’re in private. Your posts will not appear in the searches nor included in the hashtag algorithm.


Spaces, symbols, and punctuation marks do not go with hashtags. So scratch those three when using a hashtag.


When creating a hashtag, you can also make use of numbers. However, this will only work if your hashtag is a combination of both words and numbers and not just numbers.


If you want to start a trend with the use of a hashtag, aim for brevity. Striking hashtags tend to be short but impactful. You also want to add a dash of witty and genius when curating hashtags. If you want to go viral, you might as well use catchy phrases.


If you want to venture into the realm of e-commerce, there are many ways wherein you can boost your brand visibility and online presence with the use of hashtags. You can generate lead and even interact with prospective clients and customers on social media platforms.


How do I know someone isn’t using the same hashtag as I am?


You may wonder what would be the consequences if someone comes up with the same hashtag as yours, and the other way around. Unfortunately, you cannot own a hashtag. You cannot trademark a hashtag. If you see someone using the same hashtag as yours, you can either continue using the same hashtag or think of a new one.


Although hashtags are not covered by copyright and trademark, you should still be cautious. Use hashtags responsibly.


If you are posting as a private person, it’s fine to use a trademarked name in a hashtag. There is also no legal issue that can arise if you are posting as a business entity, so long as you are not engaged in the same industry.


However, things may be different if you are posting as a business entity, and you include a trademark in your hashtag. So make sure that you refrain from using other brand names when you are posting as a marketer.


If you are posting under the official account of a company, you may want to include only the necessary hashtags that will promote your online visibility. It will also help you and your audience if you don’t use any unnecessary hashtags.


How do I know the hashtag is “working?”


Analytics can help you monitor the effectiveness of your hashtags. There might not be a specific way to know whether your hashtag is working, but data interpretation can give you an idea of the progress of a hashtag.


Most of the social media platforms allow you to navigate the reaches and engagements of your hashtags. The native app can give you an idea of whether the hashtags are using.


You may also want to take a look at your competitors’ hashtags. Include their hashtags among the things that you monitor. Competitive analytics can give you an insight in terms of the condition of your competitors’ progress in publicity.


Any tools out there that help use/create/track hashtags?


Other tools can help you track hashtags. Whether you’re planning to create one for a new project or monitor the latest viral trends, these sites got you covered.


If you are planning on launching your brand online, Hootsuite can help you navigate the suitable hashtags for your industry. It’s a user-friendly tool that simply allows you to search streams.


RiteTag can also assist you in choosing which hashtag you should include in your caption. By simply inputting your caption, RiteTag will generate suggestions of trending hashtags. This can be helpful, especially if you want to boost your publicity online.


But if you want to focus on Twitter and Instagram, as they are the platforms where hashtags had been the most effective, you can try using Hashtagify.me. It helps you look for the best hashtags on Twitter and Instagram that are suitable for your brand and content.


You can also use Sprout Social to gauge the effectiveness of your hashtags. This is most useful when you are planning to build a following on Instagram. Sprout Social can track your progress in a specific hashtag.

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