That symbol, as you might know, has lived a previous life. It’s been referred to as a pound sign, used by touch-tone phones to mark the end of a numerical entry. Before that, it was used as a marker of importance in early computer programming. And even before that, it was used to mark a number. And it still functions as all these things today, although if you show that sign today to most people, especially the young, very few will say any of those previous things. Instead, they’ll call it this:
Twitter was born in 2006 as a microblogging platform. 140 character “tweets” to succinctly express your views to the vast online world. After launching the platform and seeing an explosion of users, Twitter’s founders quickly realized they needed a way to organize their creation. They chose a little used symbol on the keyboard, actually inspired by its earlier use in computer programming. The hashtag would precede a string of unspaced text and would allow people to use it as a common thread between posts, grouping them together and giving them a common keyword. The idea took off to the point that by 2014, the hashtag was so ubiquitous it even made it into the dictionary. The hashtag has been adopted across other social networks such as Facebook and Tumblr, and despite the fact that Twitter’s search has improved to the point that the hashtag is not really necessary anymore, the hashtag is still widely used.
Here are a couple of examples of hashtags in action. One enduringly popular one is #ThrowbackThursday or #TBT for short. People like to post pictures from their past (far back or recent past) on Thursdays and tag it using that hashtag. Try searching it on Twitter, and you’ll get millions of results of people around the world all doing the same thing. Here’s a more recent one from this past holiday season, #RuinAChristmasMovie. If you look that one up, there are people using that hashtag to mark a tweet modifying the title of a Christmas movie to make is seem less pleasant.
From a business perspective, hashtags are a great way to create a unified campaign on Twitter, across your social platforms, and throughout an entire marketing effort. Here’s an example we used recently for a webinar, #SearchIsSocial. The hashtag conveyed the fact that we had partnered with a search engine optimization expert and the webinar would be about the benefits of both SEO and social media for businesses. We used this hashtag in all our tweets, email marketing, and on Facebook, and we encouraged people listening to the webinar to tweet along with us live. As people tweeted along, we were sure to be responsive and the hashtag helped group all of our webinar participants and make them feel like they were actively part of a conversation, not just listening in on a lecture.
When constructing a good hashtag for your marketing effort, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1) Make it unique
In order to make sure nearly everyone who is using your hashtag is actually interacting with your marketing, you need to make a unique hashtag. That means, even if your campaign is all about seizing the day, you can’t use #YOLO (you only live once). Unfortunately, Drake ensured that that hashtag can never be unique to your campaign and it defeats the grouping purpose that your hashtag was supposed to have.
2) Make it simple
As much as you might want to put lots of campaign details into your hashtags, simple is always better. The best hashtags convey necessary information while keeping things simple and easy to remember. Try and avoid the temptation to make long hashtags, they only crowd out space that people using the hashtag would otherwise use for their own messages.
3) Make it fun
When making a hashtag for your marketing campaign, you want people to use it, so make it catchy and conspicuous. Remember, your hashtag doesn’t have to necessarily be just an accurate description of what you’re doing, like #10DollarDiscount or #ReferralBonus. Ideally, you want to make a fun hashtag, and then build the association between the hashtag and the campaign.
Hashtags were born of a necessity for organization, but they’ve become a fun, whimsical way for people to interact using social media, particularly on Twitter. When you use hashtags, be sure to keep the same spirit in mind, even if you’re using it for a serious business reason!