Understanding Hashtags

Screenshot 2014-04-19 14.31.36Hashtags, we’ve all seen them – the symbol formerly known as pound (#) placed before a word or group of words within a Tweet, engaging users to search and find related topics of interest in the Twittersphere.

The purpose of the tag is to assist people in searching for related topics and labels online – but has the use of the hashtag become overdone? Are too many people using hashtags outside of their purpose? Have we become a #Nation?

A Quick History of the #Hashtag

The hashtag is a metadata tag and has been around the Internet since 1988 – created by Jarkko Oikarinen, it was most commonly used in Internet Relay Chats (IRC) and microblogging. The idea was to enable users to communicate with others about multiple topics and ideas without the message getting lost.

The hashtag gained its place in today’s popular culture when a similar system was introduced by Chris Messina, the self proclaimed “hash godfather”, in 2007; and six years later, hashtags are now being used in posts and comments throughout Google+, Instagram, and most recently, Facebook.   Hashtags have now become a way for people to search trending news and topics of interest.

Simplicity is Best

The most simple way a hashtag can be used is to source out an idea or concept on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr, by removing the noise of every other post, bringing your focus down to one idea or thought.

It helps us moderate through everything online, by bringing information right down to the common denominator – the actual word itself, preceded by this symbol #.

When looking for information on a certain topic, one can search most social media platforms for relevant posts with the same hashtag. Many times all you may find is more noise, but often times articles and information can be found enabling the researcher to access more information on the topic or subject they are looking for.

For example – if I wanted to know what people were saying about my cities centennial events; I would search #PoMo100, or if writing about a centennial event, I would include the hashtag in my Tweet:

“Had a blast at the #PoMo100 Community Picnic today!”

Or if I wanted to know more information about what was happening in Vancouver, I could search out posts with either of the words #Vancouver or #YVR.  All posts containing that information would be streamlined to me in the platform I was searching in, whether it was Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform that uses hashtags.

Never Lose your Message

When users start muddying the ‘waters’ with hashtags of randomness all it does it create more noise, and abuse a system set in place to help us manoeuvre through Tweets that are irrelevant to us and what we are looking for.  Filling a Tweet or status with multiple hashtags can become extremely annoying to the reader, and chances are – you they could lose interest in what you’re saying because you didn’t practice a ‘less is more’ approach.

What is he trying to say?


Do the Research

When planning whatever you do marketing wise, it’s best to research everything before launching a campaign – and with the evolution of social media, that includes #hashtags.  The last thing you want to find out a week into your campaign is that your chosen hashtag has another meaning or worse yet: have that campaign backfire on you and your business. Anyone remember the #McDStories campaign in 2012?

One way to make certain you’re on the right track hashtag wise is to see if your proposed tag is already in use – a simple search can help you get campaign on its way through search.twitter.com.  This can help alleviate any confusion online by taking one hashtag and giving it multiple meanings

Keep Hashtags Beautiful

Keep all the information concise and related to your topic. Limit your tags, and make sure your readers can understand what you’re writing about – just because it’s social media, doesn’t mean your message should be any less professional.

Remember – you want your messages to be read and you want your thoughts conveyed and your ideas found. Don’t get bogged down in unrelated hashtags that can cause readers to overlook what you’re saying.

Popular Hashtags


To find your hashtag voice – start slowly, and use only words that relate to your business or your message.  Don’t over-populate and keep it simple.

Have you ever seen a message online that got lost through too many hashtags?

Michelle Murray

Event Coordinator & Fund Development Officer– SHARE Family & Community Services

Born and raised in Northern Ontario, Michelle has spent the last 13 years living in Banff and British Columbia. She has always had a desire to market, promote, and share through music, community, and social awareness.

Michelle spends her days working for SHARE Family & Community Services, a non- profit, independent, and community based organization providing leadership and programs in response to the social needs of the residents of the Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Anmore and Belcarra), New Westminster and adjacent communities.

Michelle starting blogging back in the “MySpace” days, and she always shot from the hip and wrote from the heart. She thinks of herself as extremely funny, but only her dad and best friend laugh at her jokes. foodie and home cook; Michelle auditioned for MasterChef Canada this summer, and while her dish got rave reviews, she did not make it onto the show. While bummed at not being able to participate in any Mystery Box Challenges on the show, Michelle continues to shop farmers markets and make all her food from scratch.

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