#Hashtag: The Progression of Online Communication

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So, what, exactly, is a hashtag? Hashtags, as the name suggests, are a way to tag tweets so that readers and followers can find posts that interest them. As if a 140-character tweet weren’t concise enough, today’s social media mavens use hashtags as an especially brief way to get their point across. What’s interesting about hashtags, though, is the way they have infiltrated other forms of social media, like Facebook, and even our daily conversations. Taking into account that even President Obama, and, yes, the Pope, are now tweeting, it’s clear that hashtags have become an essential tool in today’s communication arsenal.

The real trick with hashtags is knowing which hashtag to use. Fortunately, Twitter released an inphographic and accompanying blog post to help those of us who are less than savvy when it comes to social media better understand how to use hashtags. The blog is certainly worth a read for anyone who uses or wants to use hashtags, but in the spirit of distilled communication, here is the gist. There are a number of tricks to using hashtags that will make your tagging efforts more effective:

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel: if a hashtag already in use is relevant to your point, jump on the bandwagon. No need to start a brand-new tag, but be sure that any comments you make in reference to a pre-existing tag add value to the conversation.
  • Integrate other media. References to other ad campaigns can help draw a stronger association for your readers.
  • Be smart. You only have a phrase to work with when choosing a hashtag, so be sure you use something memorable. Tags that are comical or ironic often carry the greatest followings.

With the boom in hashtag popularity has come a slightly more sinister trend known as “hashtag highjacking”, when a brand’s hashtag is turned around by users to actually detract from that brand’s original message. One company this recently backfired on is McDonald’s, whose 2012 “#McDStories” hashtag quickly morphed from an opportunity for satisfied customers to share positive stories about the chain to a way for naysayers to mock the company. Even a year and a half after this campaign opened, you can still find negative stories about McDonald’s followed by this tag.

Despite this tendency to use hashtags as a way to quickly malign a brand, these little tags still have more positive uses than negative. During the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, hashtags helped keep the public aware of important safety information and they even were of some benefit to officials as they tracked down the alleged bombers.

These days, more and more people are using tablets and smartphones to stay in touch with the world and keep abreast of trends. The goal is to get exactly the information you need (or are told you need) as quickly as possible, so hashtags make a lot of sense. Individuals can use hashtags to quickly communicate a thought, and hashtags are invaluable to brands now that they only have mere moments to connect with consumers and audiences in a memorable and compelling way. Not only can a hashtag alert potential customers to a brand, but they can also help brands tailor their marketing efforts by allowing them to find up-to-the-moment indicators of what topics are hot right now. Some sites, such as Hashtags.org, even take the guesswork out of tagging by aggregating hashtags to make it simple to find out what topics are leading discussions at the moment.

Of course, leave it up to Shakespeare to stay relevant enough to be able to comment on social media trends centuries after he is dead. According to the bard in 1602, “brevity is the source of wit”, and this has certainly proved true in light of modern communication methods. If you aren’t using hashtags, you are definitely missing out on one of the most effective ways to make sure your voice is heard in today’s society. Still not sure quite how to use hashtags? The best way is to learn is to jump into the deep end and start tagging. So grab your tablet, smartphone, or (gasp) desktop computer and #telluswhatyouthink!

Author: Jessica Oaks (@TechyJessy)

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