Remember the pound key? Since 2007, the hashtag has been steadily gathering fans and making the most of the #symbol.
It’s time to learn the history of the hashtag. Where would we be without the humble hashtag on social media? Would anyone be #famous? And would followers and fans know where to find their people?
When today’s social media was still in its infancy, early adopters were looking for ways to make the Wild West of the internet into a something more organized. What would be a way to organize chats, create searchable keywords, and help people follow or jump into conversations? The hashtag was born.
Hashtag History (or #History)
Of course, the # symbol existed in communications before Twitter. The # symbol could stand in for “number” or “pound” – yes, the weight – or even the makings of a tic-tac-toe board.
By the early 2000s, though, digital influencers had firmly associated the symbol with social media, with people even writing into their local news desks to ask how the pound sign had morphed into the hashtag:
“The # sign has become something of a cultural phenomenon. The origin of the first # (pound) sign isn’t entirely clear, but linguists think it came about because it was easier to write than L-B. The # sign became even more popular in the 1960s when Bell Labs used it on its telephones. Now, the word is used as a verb – hashtagging…”
According to hashtag history, that’s thanks to a Silicon Valley product designer named Chris Messina, who is recognized as the creator of the hashtag concept. Looking to internet chat rooms for inspiration, Messina had the idea to place a pound symbol in front of keywords. In 2007, his idea finally caught on through unofficial channels – perhaps demonstrating the power of social media. Fittingly, a tweet let the idea lose: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” Later that same year, he encouraged a friend to add #sandiegofire to their tweets on the subject. It caught on. (But it wasn’t until 2009 that Twitter officially added an option for users to search for hashtags.)
“I didn’t create this idea for Twitter,” Messina tells CNBC. “I created this idea for the Internet and I wanted anybody who could write text on the Internet to be able to participate in global conversations.”
Hashtags to Remember
As anyone who’s been on the internet in recent years knows, hashtags are a natural part of social media culture now. Looking back, it’s clear how various historical and internet moments helped lead to the popularity and acceptance of hashtags. From the Occupy Wall Street movement to the birth of Instagram, using hashtags “became the lingua franca for labeling content.” Hashtags are a solid part of social media history and, perhaps, even it’s future.
But hashtags also have a reputation of being annoying. (Remember that Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake sketch ‘#Hashtag’?) People are encouraged to use hashtags sparingly, and usage and message also reveal whether a user is adding hashtags to be ironic or funny. Ever see a really long hashtag? Or way, way too many? Internet humor loves a good – or goofy – hashtag.
Whatever your thoughts on hashtags, they are sure to be sticking around. Despite hashtags being called not “as cool as they once were,” they continue to proliferate on social media thanks to influencers and TikTok. They keep creators creating, connecting with brands and audience members, and are an essential part of the TikTok sharing and discovery process. So, while you may want to be careful about using hashtags that feel too 2007, you should still keep them in mind for current content.
While social media trends are often changing, hashtags are not yet history. They are still in use today – albeit some habits and usage has changed. Since hashtags help make content discoverable, they effectively help content and organizations reach more people.
There are a few basics to keep in mind:
- Start with the # symbol and then add your word, phrase, or initials without spaces or punctuation. Hashtags are pretty basic: Just use the symbol and add letters.
- Know who can see your hashtagged content. If your accounts aren’t public, only your followers will see your thoughts.
- Keep your hashtags quick and easy. The best hashtags are short and memorable, like #tbt (throwback Thursday) and #photooftheday.
- Use the right platforms. Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok are natural platforms for hashtags, but Facebook is not.
- Don’t go crazy. The number of hashtags you use depends on your platform. One or three hashtags may work on Twitter, but you could attach up to 30 to an Instagram post.
- Make your hashtags easy for you to use. Consider creating a note on your smartphone with a list of go-to hashtags that you can copy and paste. And do your research for popular, misunderstood, and banned hashtags so you know what’s working.
Adding Hashtags to Your Strategy
Where does the history of hashtags go from here? It’s up to users like you to decide. And, as basic as hashtags are, it’s still important to do your research and understand how they work. If your hashtags look spammy or don’t effectively engage your followers, they aren’t working for you. Experimenting with niche hashtags can generate results, even if they don’t appear to be popular. For example, it’s now common for weddings and events to create hashtags. They are unlikely to go viral since they are for a very specific group of attendees, but they really resonate with the folks who want to access that content.
Finding the best hashtags for your business or organization comes down to understanding your brand and audience. Watching for the hashtags your competitors, influencers, and followers use will help you know what to create. Or, searching for one hashtag on your chosen social media platform will lead to suggested related hashtags. It’s a bit of a creative brainstorm, from #beauty to #beautybloggers to #fashionblog.
As always, keep your audience and brand in mind. If a hashtag is not a natural fit, don’t use it.