First, a quick history of hashtags. Twitter was the social networking site that popularized the use of hashtags. A hashtag is simply a word or phrase (without any spaces) preceded by a, well, a hashtag: #. For example, #hashtag.
The purpose of them on Twitter was to identify trending topics for search purposes. It allows users to use a hashtag to participate in a conversation with other Twitter users who may or may not be following each other.
Then things got out of control. People started using hashtags for everything. Everything. To the point of being annoying. So of course, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake had to make a skit about how ridiculous the hashtag phenomenon has become.
It’s funny because it’s true. We’ve all been a victim of hashtag abuse. Perhaps even guilty ourselves. In fact, I have several friends on Facebook who automatically push all their Facebook updates to Twitter and vice versa. I’ve seen Facebook updates that are one sentence long followed by over a dozen hashtags – none of them are tags for anything that anybody on the web is actually doing right now. What’s worse is that this status update pushes through to Twitter and the 160 character limit is met by hashtags alone!
Edit: Since publishing this post, Jimmy Fallon created a new video called #Hashtag2 staring himself and Jonah Hill. While not as good as the original, it goes to show just how obnoxious the whole hashtag trend has become. You can watch it here.
HOw to Use a Hashtag?
Here are 4 ways to use your hashtag correctly:
Is your hashtag something that other people are using?
Is it based on a currently trending topic on Twitter?
Is it part of a niche following for like-minded users to talk to each other?
Are you or your business using it to brand yourself or organize content?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then go ahead and use the hashtag.
Let’s examine each of those scenarios a little deeper.
1.) Is it something other people are using?
Two great example of this are the hashtags #ff and #fml.
#FF stands for Follow Friday. It’s a weekly trend on Twitter where users tag their friends with hashtag #ff to encourage other users to follow them. It’s a great way to gain new followers and give props to your friends who tweet about interesting things.
Hashtag #fml is a little more vulgar, but it’s used all the time. It stands for F*** My Life. People use it when something bad happens to them – usually out of their control. Come home to find your basement flooded? Hashtag #fml. Out on a blind date with a guy who turns out to be a major creeper? Hashtag #fml.
2.) Is it a Currently Trending Topic?
A hashtag is great for being timely and immediate. It lets users know what is going on right now.
Broadcast television has done a great job of creating relevant hashtags. For example, during the Emmy Awards a few nights ago, #emmys was a trending topic across Facebook and Twitter. If you wanted to see what other people were saying about the Emmy awards, all you had to do was search for hashtag #emmys.
People who search and use those tags themselves are able to see things that I post and I can do the same.
Hashtags help the global craft beer and home brewing community stay connected. We share reviews and recipes. Offer tips when we find a great brew or a new pub. It creates community.
4.) Are you or your business using it to brand yourself or organize content?
This one is similar to the previous example about like-minded users. It’s okay to create your own hastag – as long as you have purpose behind it! Our Creative Director created his own hashtag, #spacemonkeyoriginal, that he uses when tweeting about his original artwork.
Our agency uses hashtag #100ProofResults when we talk about how we get results for our clients. It’s part of our brand – because we prove our work works 100% of them. It’s 100 Proof.
Notice that these custom hashtags aren’t too long or obnoxious or unrelated to anything. There is a purpose behind them – and they’re great for organizing our content, too.
Don’t Abuse Hashtags
Use them for what they were meant to do. People who make hashtags for every silly little thing are like that guy at the party who never shuts up and everyone wants to punch him in the nose. Don’t be that guy.
I’m passionate about making things happen for our clients, thus generating real and quantifiable results. As the Technical Marketing Manger, I have the joy to touch nearly every aspect of our clients’ inbound marketing efforts. From social media, to blogging, to PPC to lead nurturing, and email marketing. I love generating new ideas and then watching them come to life. In my free time, I brew my own beer with my dad and brother, play with my kids, go on dates with my wife and occasionally get a little gaming in.