Social Media Hashtags: What Are They and How to Use Them?

As we delve into our social media networks, like Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, it seems that hashtags – or little words and phrases preceded by the # symbol – are permeating everything in our feeds. This cryptic little symbol can actually make it easy to categorize posts and search for similar content, but more and more people seem to be using it outside of that purpose, which creates confusion about this practice as a whole.

The Origin of the #Hashtag

Unlike many internet crazes, the emergence of the hashtag can actually be traced to its very first Tweet. Back in August 2007, Chris Messena, a former Google employee, wrote on Twitter: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” Granted, this single tweet didn’t revolutionize how we navigate social media all at once, it eventually did catch on. When used appropriately, they can gain much exposure for your business or things that interest you most.

How to Effectively Create Your Own Hashtag

You can make up your own hashtag, but you should take care to choose something that clearly states its purpose, so it won’t be confused with another brand or topic. Another option for using hashtags to gain exposure is to proverbially ride on a trending hashtag’s coattails. For example, if your business offers a product or service that is closely related to a popular event, item, or person, using that trending tag will bring up your message in those search results. Also, consider using tracking and analytics, such as what Sprout Social Trends provides, to find hashtags people already associated with your business and use them to your advantage.

Where Can You Use Hashtags?

Finally, know what social media networks are best adapted to using hashtags. This is one practice where Facebook isn’t your go-to place. While Twitter and Instagram are the hashtag kings, there are scores of other platforms made for this kind of categorization, including, but not limited to, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Tumblr, Vine, and Flickr. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this powerful categorization tool.

With time, observation, and practice, hashtags will be able draw lots of people you may otherwise miss through conventional advertising to your online business presence.