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What You Don’t Know About Hashtags

We’ve all heard it, “What’s a hashtag?” It’s kind of like tying a shoe; it’s easy to do but not as easy to explain. So when you are asked by technology challenged boss or that guy in your office who doesn’t think your company needs an active Facebook page, here’s everything you need to know about #hashtags and why they’re so relevant for your business:

What started out as a way of organizing content in chat rooms back in the late 80’s, has now become a staple icon in our modern culture. Hashtags have revolutionized social media and have even become a part of spoken conversation, whether we like it or not, “hashtag annoying!”

“Hashtag” is actually the term for a pound sign used in social media, and did not inherit the name “hashtag” until 2007, after the first time it was used. The name Chris Messina may not mean anything to you, but he is responsible for using the first hashtag on Twitter on August 23, 2007, and for eventually causing a social media and marketing powerhouse to be born.

Here is a glimpse at true social media history, an internet fossil of the very first hashtag:


So, let’s break this down.

Who is this Chris guy?

Chris Messina is like the coolest person you’ve never heard of. He used to work at this place called Google as an Open Web Advocate, later started his own business, moved on to Firefox, and now leads the Developer Experience team at Uber. He is an Open Source Advocate, which is technology speak for his support of software source code (all the crazy codes that live behind the pretty website screen you are looking at now) being freely available for anyone to enhance or modify. He basically thinks that the best of technology should be shared so that it can be made better, which is exactly why he didn’t patent his #brilliantidea that is now known as the hashtag.

What does he mean by groups?

Hashtags work because they provide a simple way of organizing the information that people are looking for. So if you’re interested in a topic, whether it be an event, a product, or a news highlight, you can search for it by name, with # in front and find posts containing the hashtag that you searched. The various strings of posts that all contain the same #hashtag are the “groups” that Chris was referring to in his tweet. When this tweet was posted in 2007, hashtags did not automatically become links that you can click on the way they do now, but more on that later.

What is barcamp and why did Chris tweet about it?

Barcamp is a website that is run by its users and provides a homebase for workshops and conferences about technology and the web. The genius behind using this as the first hashtag is that the primary audience that was immediately targeted was a group of people who thrive on anything and everything tech-based. So, Chris took an already proven method of organizing information within social platforms (the pound signs that were used in internet relay chatting back in the day) and hand fed it to a group of techies using a new and exciting form of social media. And it totally worked!

The ironic part of this whole situation, is that according to the Wall Street Journal, the people who ran Twitter told Chris that hashtags would never work because “these things are for nerds.” Turns out, those nerds knew more about the possibilities than Twitter themselves did. A few days after Chris sent out that tweet, a guy named Stowe wrote a blog about the situation and created the name “hashtag,” which has a way better ring to it than “pound sign.” It also separates the function away from just a symbol usually representing a number.

In 2009, Twitter officially gave into the #nerdlife and adopted the hashtag as an actual feature on the site. The groupings now formed automatic hyperlinks, which allowed the hashtags to be clickable and the group they represented to be available instantaneously. A year later, the term “trending” became associated with the most popular hashtags on Twitter, and the site began highlighting them.

Since then, practically all social media platforms live the #nerdlife and embrace the hashtag. Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have since adopted the hashtag and in 2014, the Oxford Dictionary did too. That’s right, “hashtag” is not just a phase, it’s a real word in the dictionary.

It is just not possible to look at any social media sites these days without seeing hashtags. With social media being so prevalent in our lives, hashtags can be a very beneficial tool for much more than just being social. Conferences, weddings, and community events typically create a hashtag to spread news and gather information in one place.

They’re also very handy if you’re looking for a good restaurant while traveling, #KeyWestBrunch.  Beyond just organization, hashtags are an incredible business marketing tool. Since they allow users to search for a specific topic, businesses can use hashtags to their advantage by incorporating appropriate hashtags into their social media messages and create possibility for more traffic onto their pages. If your business is having a #BlackFridaySale, including the hashtag in a post about the sale only increases the number of eyes who will see the post after searching that same hashtag.

Research shows that 74% of adults are on social media sites. That means that 74% of people who are able to contribute profitability to your business are reachable through platforms that use hashtags. If used correctly, hashtags can grow client base, and also maintain the client base you currently have. Posting on social media using consistent and relevant hashtags not only spreads your message, but gives users another way to reach out to you and voice their message as well. Major companies such as McDonalds have seen wild success in customer service by simply responding to customers, happy or unhappy, through social media posts containing hashtags that their marketing team keeps an eye on.

What all of this hashtag business means for us, is that social media is not dying off anytime soon. If anything, it’s getting stronger and significantly more organized. It means that the world wide web is only going to get bigger, and that our futures are looking very digital. It is revolutionizing the way businesses reach clients and it is a fast moving train, so hop on board. It’s safe to say that, #HashtagsAreHereToStay. We think for the better.