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The Mysterious Hashtag: What It Is and What It Does

Do the importance and significance — and maybe even the entire point — of the widely-used hashtag elude you? If so, take heart. You’re among friends here, and we won’t tell. We’re here to clarify and help you get it. From definition to implementation, with our information, you’ll be tagging your #TBT pics, claiming #FollowForFollow, sharing #SundayFunday images and doing it all #LikeABoss before you know it!

What Is a Hashtag?

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” OK. This isn’t The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews we aren’t, but we do know the history and proper use of the hashtag. So, just why IS this thing we referred to as a pound sign now called a hashtag? It goes waaaay back to 2007 when Chris Messina, a technology expert, tagged his tweet with #Barcamp, trying to gather information about this global technology unconference. Boom. It exploded from there.

Hashtags are more than just a little symbol. They serve to catalog conversations about a single topic in a searchable way. Once used, all hashtags are indexed by the social media network and will be included in future searches for that hashtag. When you add them to posts, hashtags become clickable. Clicking on the hashtag brings up a separate page that includes all posts on that network containing that hashtag. Pretty cool, right? It’s way cooler than a card catalog (if you remember those). Way.

Why so much cooler, you ask? Hashtags bring people all over the world together communicating on a single subject. Hashtags simply contain the # symbol followed by a word or phrase relating to your post, but they are powerful little buggers.

How Do I Properly Use Hashtags?

The Mysterious Hashtag: What It Is and What It DoesUsing hashtags is super easy, but using them properly takes some strategy. Here are some things to know about hashtag smarts and etiquette:

  • Choose a keyword or phrase related to your topic. Add a # in front of it and remove all spaces.
  • Don’t try to smoosh in too many words. #Itcangetjumbledandhardtoread.
  • Less is more. #Don’t #tag #every #word #in #your #posts. Choose just one to three impactful #words or #phrases.
  • Use hashtags with a purpose, making sure they are relevant to your topic. Adding pointless tags to your posts on occasion can be fun, but don’t overdo it. #DontBeAnnoying #LoveTheHashtag #TheseAreTooRandom
  • Research trending hashtags before you decide on ones for your posts. You could reach a larger audience if you can tap into a popular one. Type your hashtags into the search bars for your platforms to see if they are trending

Can I Create My Own Hashtag?

Yes, you sure can, but be careful. And really, heed our warning. Do your research first. You don’t want to send out something like #Nowthatchersdead and leave the entire interwebs wondering if it’s Cher or Thatcher who’s dead. (It really happened.) Take these steps before braving social media with your newfound hashtag:

  • Consider the purpose of the message attached to your hashtag. Maybe you want readers to be able to find all your posts in one place. Or maybe you’re trying to start a trend (which is a little more difficult).
  • Look at it from all angles and all capitalizations. In other words, maybe don’t use #penismightierthanthesword. The pen! The PEN is mightier, people! Make sure your hashtags can’t be misinterpreted.
  • Consider your audience, and research which hashtags are currently popular. Can you make a play on an existing hashtag?
  • Check what already exists, and be sure you aren’t duplicating.
  • Can you attach a contest or incentive to your hashtag to help it spread? Sites like ShortStack can help you plan and organize a campaign.
  • Plan all the places and methods in which you may use your new hashtag — across social media platforms, of course, but also in newsletters, ads, marketing materials, etc.

Which Social Media Platforms Use Hashtags?

The Mysterious Hashtag: What It Is and What It DoesMost of the popular social media networks support the use of hashtags. You can use tags on:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube

Hashtags are definitely here to stay. And to stay relevant — and searchable — your business should be in the game. Need to get your social media consistent and tap into the world of hashtags? Give All Things Writing, LLC a call. Our content specialists can research, write and post your social media blurbs and help you create a hashtag specific to your business.

All Things Writing is a full-service content development and content marketing company on a mission to help clients shine online and in print. Our clients are from the private, government and nonprofit sectors.


Erin Pittman, Lead Editor

A project manager, writer and editor, Erin Pittman has almost a decade of professional experience in both print and online materials. She holds a BA in English from Randolph-Macon College. Her work has been featured in local and national publications, as well as on various local and national websites and blogs. Writing topics include marketing, personal finance, special needs, military, parenting, seniors, local events, real estate, service industries, business profiles and more.