We’ve seen it on LinkedIn. We’re using it on Instagram. We attach it on virtually all our posts on Facebook. And more evidently, we encounter this on Twitter on a daily basis. Yes, we’re talking about “Hashtag”.

But do we actually know its purpose?

To ask the mother of all social media-related questions: What exactly is a hashtag?

Before the world saw the dawn of the digital era, this symbol was once just a simple icon to denote a number (#7; read as number seven) or your partner’s weight (110#; indicating “one hundred and ten pounds). Today, it has become a part of our computer literacy and eloquence – however oftentimes being misconstrued and misused by resident netizens and social media plebeians in epic proportions.

In the hopes of giving more light to the true essence of hashtag, here’s a clear definition of the term, and how to use it properly on your next post.

Hash…WHUUUT?

Hashtag, that is. As defined by Wikipedia, it is a type of metadata tag used on various social network and microblogging sites to find messages on a specific theme or content. To simplify, it is used to categorize a specific topic so that other users can easily search for it online.

In the same manner, hashtag pertains to the hash sign, itself (#).

Contrary to popular belief, hashtags were not invented by Twitter. It was not even associated with the microblogging site in any way. At least not before the mid-2000s. In fact, hashtag has been around for quite some time now. Its history goes as far back as 1970s as part of early computer programming language. The first online uses of hashtag can be traced back to the ’80s when the pound sign was an accepted practice for labeling topics and channels from text communications. Fast forward to 2007, hashtags became a widely used tagging method when former Googler, Chris Messina, became the instant hashtag advocate. He introduced this categorization system to the Twitterverse in an effort to index various topics within the site. Soon after, Twitter adopted the method, took off, and became what it is today.

Proper Use Of Hashtags

Granted that hashtags can be as simple as putting a hash sign to every word you desire. But one does not simply blast a pound-marked word to every social post and claiming it to be relevant.

Just like fine dining, hashtags entail proper etiquette for correct usage. Doing it the wrong way can and will dissolve the context and essence of your post – be it on social sites, blog entries, websites, and other various marketing materials.

Here are some points you have to consider when using a hashtag:

Short & Simple – Searching for a specific subject or topic on the Internet is like looking for a needle in the haystack. Hashtags are meant to serve as a magnet to simplify topic search. That’s why it has to be short, specific, and has a context. Keep in mind that it’s not intended for highlighting over-sentimental excerpts and expressions from your manifesto-esque status post. So, never overstuff your hashtags with lengthy keywords, or worse, affixing it over a running sentence. Otherwise it wouldn’t make much sense. Rule of thumb is that you have to make it informative and easy to remember to instill relevance among your audience.

Spaces and Special Characters are Red Flags – Resist the urge to put spaces on your hashtag if you want it to gather steam. Capitalize each first letter of the words if you’re opting for a phrase on your hashtag (e.g.: #NegociaGroup, #HashtagBooBoos). Numbers are also acceptable (e.g. #Se7en; #Election2016). Aside from the “At” symbol (@; used for mentioning another user) and, of course, the hash symbol, punctuation marks and special characters won’t do any good. So don’t bother trying to be edgy by putting unnecessary symbols to your hashtags.

Limit Your Number of Hashtags – Albeit it is acceptable to use as many as you want, the recommendable number of hashtags, as per Twitter, is two. As for Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, it is still considered kosher to utilize multiple hashtags as long as they are relevant to your main subject or caption. Too many hashtags will make your content look garbled and spammy.

Create a Theme – Heard of #ThrowbackThursdays or #OOTD? These are thematic hashtags. You can create themed posts and categorize it accordingly using a specified hashtags to cluster different set of topics on your timeline in a consistent and effective manner. For example, use #MondayMotivation to compile your routine motivational quotes during Mondays. This way, a hashtag can gain momentum and boost its popularity among your audience if used routinely.

Use Hashtags to Market Your Brand

Beyond the general description of its purpose, this ubiquitous symbol has evolved into something far more relevant to our daily lives in terms of communicating with other people. So goes for established brands and thriving enterprises leveraging in the digital craze. Today, many businesses rely heavily on social media when it comes to promoting their brand and communicating with their audience. In addition, hashtags proves to be a practical way to monitor their visibility, gather insights, and track campaign progress.

More so, hashtag provides marketing experts the intelligence they need in order for them to ideate and strategize their next online marketing move.

Here are some best practices on how to use hashtags for marketing reconnaissance and social listening:

  • Keep an eye on trending topics on Twitter, and even in Facebook or LinkedIn. Same goes with checking the “Explore” section of Instagram, and other social sites. This provides vital access to hot news, recent events, and the latest bits from anyone and anywhere in the world.
  • Use hashtags to gauge target market/audience by searching topics on various social channels, particularly Twitter. (e.g. businesses that involve charter service or aerial tours can spot tweets and other topics relating to aviation and helicopter tours by keying in #helicopters on the search bar)
  • Get updates on competitor’s recent online activity. Constant competitor monitoring serves the purpose of making sure no two businesses are using and sharing the same hashtags.
  • Come up with the perfect and unique custom hashtag to represent the brand. Spread it online. For offline, include hashtags on other marketing collateral such as flyers, tarps, and posters to raise awareness. Remember, consistency is the key to an effective hashtag.

Now that you’re #InTheKnow of the hashtag basics, time for you to ditch your old posting habits and revamp your timeline for a more engaging online interaction!