hashtagThe Urban Dictionary calls a hashtag “a stupid thing people put in front of random words for no reason.  It is just the pound sign you can find on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.”  There is a history behind the #hashtag and it could be beneficial to your business.

Hashtags were originally used within IRC (Internet Relay Chat) networks to label specific groups or topics.  They were used to mark individual messages that were relevant to a particular group or as belonging to a specific topic.

Then hashtags really grew in popularity as the popularity of Twitter grew.  Twitter created a system to use hashtags as a way to tag topics on a microblogging network.  According to Wikipedia, in 2009, Twitter began to hyperlink all hashtags in tweets to Twitter search results for the hashtagged words.  Then, in 2010, Twitter introduced “Trending Topics” on their front page, displaying popular, recently used hashtags.

Earlier this year, Facebook introduced hashtags to allow users to click and see what their friends think about trending topics.  Facebook users can now group comments on various topics by typing their #hashtag phrase at the end of a post.  These #hashtags are then converted to a hyperlink and are clickable to open the page for that particular topic or phrase.

ncisfindthisplaneIn season 11, episode 3 of NCIS, the team turned to social networking for help on a case.  Specifically they used Twitter and asked people to be on the lookout for a plane.  If they saw that plane, they were asked to enter the location where they saw it followed by #findthisplane.  Yes, this is a television show, but it was a great way to show how #hashtags really work.  All posts on this subject could be found just by typing #findthisplane in the search box on Twitter.  Now that all posts on that specific subject (or in this case on the missing plane) would be in one feed, they were successful in locating it.

That idea works thoughout social media and the use of hashtags in posts.  All posts relating to a specific hashtag are contained in one feed.  This is popular on Instagram as well.  If you type a #hashtag phrase when you upload a photo, it will capture all photos with that hashtag and display them on one screen.

It has proven to be a great system for social networking users to join online conversations about anything.  Advertisers are using it as an easy way to reach a particular audience.  Once you identify where your post or subject fits, the chances of there already being a hashtag in that area are very high.  If you see someone using a hashtag and you like it, you can click that and see the new list or feed appear.

The great thing about a hashtag is that it brings you into communication with people you don’t know.  It’s a great networking tool as well as a great knowledge base on subjects from many users.  Since posts without a hashtag reach people you already know, adding a hashtag results in even more benefits.  A few benefits of hashtags include:

  1. information that is searchable by anyone
  2. hashtags will appear in a stream for others to find
  3. networking with new people all over the world
  4. new resources to access any topic
  5. the ability to hone in on relevant information

Custom hashtags can sort your own posts as well.  In business or on a personal social media site, you can use hashtags to create your own results on any topic, from photos of your puppy to health information, and many other topics.

Try it for yourself and see what shows up using one hashtag on a post and click it to see what results you find.