The Mysterious World of #Hashtags

Clear & Convincing Feature Article

Social Media

Definition of hashtag: Word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text, such as a tweet. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

For most of us, the # icon is a symbol of measurement. It stands for a pound as on 1#. But, for many, it is a label used in social media to make it easier for users to find messages with specific content. The hash (#) character is placed in front of a word or phrase (tag) used for description and placed either in the main text or at the end of the message.

Historically, the pound sign was first used in information technology to identify a special meaning. Over time, some suggested using it on microblogging sites such as Twitter, and it took off in 2007 after it was used in tweets relating to the San Diego forest fires. Internationally, it became a writing style for Tweets during the 2009–2010 Iranian election posts. Now #hashtag is also used on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and many more.

Hashtags are not registered or controlled by any one user or group of users. They live in perpetuity and contain no set definitions, so any hashtag can be used for any purpose and by anyone. It is also important to think about which hashtags to include with your post since they can have a huge influence on who finds or fails to find what you are writing about. Going to the wrong audience can cause great content to be lost.

Keep your hashtags short. Limiting them to one or two words is best. #thisisaverylonghashtag is too hard to read.

Hashtags on Twitter

Because of their expanded use, hashtags have become valuable. Adding a hashtag in your Twitter post will make your content noticeable by anyone with an interest in your topic or word. For example: #unbundling. If it is mentioned and hashtagged in your Tweet, anyone searching for that word in Google or in Twitter could find you regardless of whether they are a follower or not.

Hashtags can appear anywhere in your Tweet—beginning, middle, or end. Tweets with hashtags get more retweets and favorites than those without. Keep it simple, however, don't use more than two hashtags per post. In other words, don't #spam #with #hashtags and only use hashtags that relate to the topic. 

Clicking on the hashtagged word in your Tweet shows you all the other Tweets marked with that keyword. Twitter reports that hashtagged words that become popular are often included in trending topics.

Hashtags on Instagram & Pinterest

For those who like to post and tag photos, Instagram and Pinterest are the places to be. Unlike Twitter, use as many hashtags to categorize your photos as you want since using them will increase your followers.

Hashtags on Facebook

Hashtags are not as popular on Facebook. When you add a hashtag to your post, the people you've shared your post with can also see it in that hashtag's feed. For example, if you share a post containing a hashtag with Friends, they can see your post in that hashtag's feed. Remember, if you use a hashtag in a post you share to the public, and allow people to follow you, your post will appear on your public profile and in that hashtag's feed.

Hashtags on Google+

Google+ is not Twitter, so it's important to remember that a Twitter approach will not net the same results. Google recommends that you pair your hashtags with images since photo sharing is the most popular activity on Google and limit yourself to 2–3 hashtags per post. 

Hashtags are an organizing tool. Using them well in your social media can identify your content, bring more readers to your posts, and expand your network of possible clients.

Roberta GubbinsRoberta Gubbins has served as the editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides services as a ghostwriter editing articles, blogs, and e-blasts for lawyers and law firms. She is the editor of Briefs, the Ingham County Bar Association e-newsletter, and The Mentor, SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.

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