To quote Jarod Kintz, author of “This Book is Not for Sale”, “New streets should be Twitter friendly and be named with hashtags up front. I’d build a house on #LoversLane.”
From its humble origins in information technology, the hashtag has come a long way to associate social media messages with the dominant meme or thought. It’s use has become so pervasive that it is subconsciously altering the way we think. For instance, instead of solely voicing out messages, we associate it with something bigger, like a concept or philosophy or cultural trend. In doing so, we become a part of something bigger than ourselves, something core to the idea of social media.
Origin and adoption:
The first hashtag use on Twitter dates back to 2007 when Chris Messina tweeted, “How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” It was not something Twitter actively enforced, but took off instantly. In fact, in spite of its widespread use, Twitter did not use hashtags to hyperlink hashtagged tweets to Twitter search results for the hashtagged word until two years after that. Eventually, however, it came up with its feature “Trending Topics” that picked up the conversations that generated the biggest buzz based on the hashtag associated with the tweets. Clicking on the bait, this led to even more Twitterati joining the conversations.
Spread to other social media:
Soon, this practice of associating hashtags with their posts spread across social media – to Facebook, Flickr and Instagram. Instagram in fact allows you to search for related posts based on a hashtag search. However, the hashtag use is mainly to serve as a meta commentary. Any application of the hashtag to come up with search results in only secondary. That’s what makes it a most interesting social media trend.
Hashtag links Television shows to Twitter posts
Popular debate shows like “The Big Fight” and “The Buck Stops Here” actually invite tweets on their Twitter channels and air them on Television if they find them shareworthy. This is a great way to involve audiences in the debate instead of treating them like mute spectators. It must have had a big impact on the ratings of approval for these shows.
Hashtags for branding stories
Brands have been quick to sniff an opportunity to engage their audiences better using hashtags for generating buzz around product launches and events. They are known to associate hashtags even with their commercials to increase their cool quotient. This is a great way to connect with millennials who have grown up with hashtags in social media. On the flipside, brands have also be known to receive instant feedback, sometimes grievances on their social media pages. These posts are hashtagged, too. So, we are seeing brands bend over backwards to reinforce themselves as the slightest negativity in a tweet hashtagging them can dent their positive image.
Tackling subversive use of hashtags
Social media users use hashtags to associate with their posts based on their varied moods, biases, creativity and abilities of association. It is also common for users to post associating unrelated hashtags just so that their post can come up in the search results. They could be spamming, trolling or just attention seeking. This is mostly seen with tweets that feature in Trending Topics. So, the onus is on social media companies to filter these unwanted messages from the search results to create great user experience.
In social movements:
Social media has begun to reflect social upheavals such as “Occupy Wall Street” and “Arab Spring”. They invited users to discuss, collaborate and create around events in the socio-political realm. What’s the connecting thread of thought? The Hashtag. One symbol that united people across the globe to generate conversations around specificities.
If the hashtag were a pair of eyes, it has seen it all.