Is it an octothorpe, a pound sign, or a hashtag? No matter what you call the # symbol, using hashtags in social media is a widespread practice. Some people love using them, but it seems that they have forgotten the point of using them. There are also plenty of haters. Linguistics experts, such as UC Berkeley’s Geoffrey Nunberg, say that the use of “hashtags is lazy and reduces the irony in communication.”
Whether you love them or hate them, it has become clear that tags are here to stay. Here’s a rundown on avoiding epic fails and some no-nonsense tips for using tags in social media.
The word “hashtag” officially became a word according the Oxford English Dictionary in June of this year. Microsoft Word, on the other hand, does not believe it. I’ve read a couple of versions about the birth of the hashtag, but the generally accepted version, is that an Google employee, Chris Messina, invented the use of hashtags in 2007 as a way to organize messages into groups. If you knew the hashtag, you were in the know: an insider.
Today, hashtag use is an evolving practice and no longer limited to just Twitter. Most of the major social media platforms support some use of hashtags. Facebook came late to the game and finally added hashtag functionality in 2013 to capture marketing dollars tied to hashtags.
Hashtags allow people to share ideas, sentiments, or to promote something specific.
Sometimes companies and marketers completely miss the mark and hashtag fails occur. One epic “fail” occured when Susan Boyle released an album in 2012. Her PR folks created the infamous #susanalbumparty tag to promote the album; it released a media frenzy and a slew of crude and unflattering posts.
To avoid fails when using hashtags do your homework first. Research the tag (hashtags.org is a good source) to identify any potential damage to your message. Share it with others just for a sanity check.
Sometimes hashtags don’t fail but how they are used is just plain ugly. Some people love them so much every word in a post includes a hashtag. Excessive use of hashtags in social media is a newbie mistake. Tagging every word does not add to the social media conversation. Use them to call out your carefully thought-out keywords, specific ideas, or to promote campaigns and events.
Another ugly use of hashtags (a personal pet peeve) is making them extremely long. Tags should be easy to read; nothing is better than when they are short and sweet. Besides, no one is going to remember that drawn-out sentence and in Twitter they take up too much real estate.
1. Research your tags.
2. Stay within the one to three range in a single post.
3. Make them short and sweet.
4. Be specific and authentic.
5. Add to the conversation.
Whether you are a small business owner or social media maverick, using hashtags is a pivotal part of your communication work. Don’t feel intimated by hashtag critics; take a look at their Twitter feeds. They too are tagging just as much as the rest of us. Yes, even Geoffrey Nunberg’s feed is littered with hashtags.
Share your hashtag pet peeve or your favorite tip.