What are hashtags?

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Whether you call it a number sign, pound symbol, octothorpe, hash symbol, or hashtag, the humble “#” has come a long way. While the symbol itself has been around since long before social media, it was Twitter that turned the # symbol into the now-familiar “hashtag”.


To understand how truly important hashtags are, imagine trying to find a recipe in a cookbook with no table of contents or index. While the recipes might be grouped together by type, portion, or ingredients, it would be difficult and time-consuming to try to find what you’re looking for without any insight into how the book was organized. With just a little more information, you can easily find what you need and avoid wasting time with unhelpful searches or having to read the whole book. Much like an index in a cookbook, hashtags are the way to easily find information on specific topics on a website or social media platform.


In the early days of Twitter, the social network served as almost a stream of consciousness for the internet at large. As Twitter gained popularity, users began to see their feeds filled with tweets that weren’t always relevant to them. Unfortunately, the platform lacked a way to curate topics or find threads that would be of interest to users. That’s when Twitter employee, Chris Messina, threw out the concept of using hashtags to help group similar ideas and make them easier to find and user Stowe Boyd first coined the phrase “hashtag” in a 2007 blog article. The idea caught on quickly and hashtags have become the standard organization method across social media platforms. 


Using hashtags to organize information wasn’t a new practice for the internet, but it was a novel concept for a modern social network. Hashtags have been used to categorize and organize groups on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), an old-school message board, since the 1980s. The users of this novel internet group relied on hashtags to easily group and organize information making it easier for new members to find what they were looking for. By using hashtags like #selfie, #football, #cats, or any other desired hashtag, users could easily find and join in on conversations that were relevant to them.


5 Rules to Using Hashtags

  1. Hashtags can be any letter or number

(ex. #yellow or #321)

  1. Hashtags can not have spaces or symbols

(ex. #ilovedogs will work, but #i love dogs will only show as #i)

  1. Hashtags will show your post to more people

            (This is a great way to grow your social following)

  1. Shorter, more general hashtags will get more views

(ex. #movie vs #moviesarecool)

  1. Consider the larger context

(ex. Consider other meanings and definitions when hashtagging to avoid disaster).


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