Everyone is craving for a more organised and relevant internet. We are fed unimaginable amounts of information of which only a small percentage is useful. Search engines, social media networks and many other online entities are putting a lot of effort into keeping up with the internet users’ needs. One method available to filter the information in certain digital environments is the hashtag.
Definition: A hashtag is any group of letters prefixed by a “#” symbol.
Hashtags originate in the IRC era (Internet Relay Chat) and their purpose back then is similar to their purpose today. It is all about grouping, organising and tagging certain groups or topics. There are a lot of organised discussion platforms, take for example online forums. These platforms have specified topics and don’t need a method for filtering. We can’t say the same thing when it comes to ad-hoc discussion boards like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or many other social networks. The more people you follow/befriend, the more information you get. And the more information you get, the easier it is to loose sight of what really interests you. So a hashtag allows the grouping of information relevant to the topic from everyone and thus allows a user access specific information coming from people who may not be in their close circle.
In the post-IRC era, hashtags were made popular again by Twitter. It took a while, but the others followed. The only rule the hashtags have is that there are no rules. Opposed to the IRC channels which were moderated by admins (prefixed by an “@” symbol), hashtags are left free to wander in the social media universe.
On Twitter, if a hashtag is used by a large number of users, it becomes “trending”, it appears on the homepage and its popularity boosts. Of course, it also becomes susceptible to spamming techniques (i.e. Buy a new pair of glasses #stpatricksday). If you have a product you want to promote, under no circumstance should you choose to post it with an unrelated hashtag. This will most likely do more harm than improve your sales.
Note: Keep in mind that if you alter a hashtag’s spelling even a little, you create a brand new one. For example, #day1 is not the same thing as #dayone and #nice_one differs from #niceone.