Last updated February 25th, 2016 at 11:53 am

This introduction to Hashtags is the first in a series of posts about Hashtags in social media, their usage and value.

Social Media sites that use Hashtags

Even if you already use Hashtags, I hope this series will extend your knowledge and help you to use them more effectively, to grow your network, and for branding,  promotion, and research purposes.

What Is A Hashtag?

A hashtag is a method of labeling/tagging posts on leading social media sites by preceding a word with the hash (pound) symbol, #. Adding  # before a topic creates a  link that is globally searchable, within the social media network it is used.

Much like categories and tags on blogs, Hashtags draw attention to a topic, except the topic is network wide and not confined to a single author. They form a method of global communication among a social media site’s users.

Hashtags make content available to people who share similar interests. Posts using hashtags are are publicly viewable, unless used in private or secret groups.

Popular categories used in Hashtags include education, social media, home and lifestyle, entertainment, tech, business, promotions, brand names, breaking news, causes, announcements, emotions and opinions and twitter chat.

Originally used by the old IRC network in 1988 and then by Twitter, Hashtags are also now a feature of Facebook, Gplus, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest.

Although supported by these networks, Hashtag words are all user created and user driven. There are no officially set keywords, which creates a maze of options to choose from. Many users dismiss them as being too complicated, whereas others create and use a multitude of silly and meaningless tags.

The only rules to follow, to make Hashtags work as a clickable and searchable resource, are the way they are formatted:

Format

The format for a hashtag is #topicname or #TopicName

  • Apart from underscores, no spaces, punctuation marks, or special characters are allowed in hashtags, only standard English and International characters and numbers.
  • You can highlight different words by using Capital letters but this is only for visual appeal, the hashtag itself is the same as if it were in lowercase. Example: A search for #SocialMediaMarketing will translate to #socialmediamarketing.
  • Hashtags can be used at the end of a tweet or within your text. Examples #SocialMedia uses hashtags or Social Media uses hashtags #SocialMedia

Trends

Many Hashtags have become universally popular for long-term use. Others spring up and go viral for the short-term. An example of an ongoing popular tag on Twitter is #FollowFriday or #FF where Twitter users recommend their favorite tweeters to their followers on a Friday. Breaking news topics can become popular very quickly but then die down completely.

Twitter Chats

Chat Hashtags let Twitter Users join in discussions, generally run by experts, that take place at set times. A  chat Hashtag is created and used to announce the chat timing. Participants then use the chat Hashtag to join in the conversations. Chats can be one-offs or regular events, some weekly, some monthly.

Popular regular chats include: #scichat, Hubspots chat about the science of inbound marketing. #MediaChat  a discussion about social and online media, digital topics and new apps. #BlogChat which covers blogging methods, tips, tricks and tactics.

Hashtags are:

  • not the same as the @ symbol in Twitter or the +personsname in Gplus. These symbols create a link leading to a contact’s profile and are used to tag a contact; to credit them, or to alert them to your message.
  • not to be used for spamming. Ok, they are used for spamming but I am sure you will join me in saying “Please do not use hashtags for spamming!”
  • not a way of labeling dishes for freezing nor marking illicit products 🙂
places you don't use hashtags

#TongueInCheek, #FeebleAttemptAtHumor

Privacy and Hashtags

If your posts are public then all the world can see your hashtagged posts in hashtag search. Hashtags don’t change your current privacy settings. If your posts can only be seen by friends or approved contacts, then your posts with #hashtags only appear in searches to friends.

In Facebook you can control who sees individual posts by by posting only to friends or as public or creating lists and only posting to people on those lists.  If your privacy settings are set to only show posts to friends you can still post hashtagged posts as public.

In Google Plus you have to set your privacy settings for individual posts by choosing to share Public, to Your Circles, chosen circles, or groups. Public posts with hashtags are viewable by anyone in hashtag searches. In settings you can decide who can send you messages and who is allowed to comment on your public posts.

Thanks to  Rachel Lavern for reminding me to write about Privacy.

Hashtag Timeline

Hashtag timeline history infographic

Source Offerpop: History of #Hashtags
Click for full-size Infographic

There are many tools and resources to help you with choosing, using and monitoring Hashtags. I will cover a range of these later in this series.

This is the first post in my series on Hashtags:

If you have a question about Hashtags, please ask by leaving a comment and I will answer the comment or by explaining in my next posts.