Did you know that more than 300 million people use Twitter?
I wonder what percentage of those users, ever use a hashtag responsibly. I don’t know about you, but I have come to hate hashtags and I realised this week that I need to reform. You see, I don’t hate hashtags in and of themselves, I just hate the way they are flagrantly abused daily on almost every social media platform known to man.
Last year I decided to simply rebel and stop using hashtags altogether as a silent (totally useless) rebellion. This year, I have decided that my contribution can’t save all the helpless hashtags out there. So, I’ll try and encourage others to use them in a (healthy) helpful way, by example.
The hashtag was originally used in information technology as a metadata tag. In the early days of Twitter, developer, Chris Messina suggested the use of the # to categorise and group topics on Twitter. His idea was largely ignored until the 2007 San Diego forest fires in Southern California. Then journalists embraced the idea and used a hashtag in content relating to the fires. The rest, as they say in the classics is hashtag history. In fact, the term ‘hashtag’ was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary in June 2014, owing to its widespread use on Twitter, social media and in micro-blogging.
Twitter frowns on the excessive use of hashtags and recommends a maximum of three hashtags in posts. Ideally, one each for the subject and place that pertains to the content, and if you absolutely must, a third. Exceeding these guidelines can apparently lead to your content being excluded or filtered from a search. Or worse (but I think better), the suspension of your account by Twitter. I would love to know if this has been enforced. Judging by how many offenders still shamelessly hit hashtags daily, I suspect it has not.
Believe it or not, hashtags have a real purpose. Using a hashtag creates a searchable link to enable you to join/ follow a conversation or thread. Responsible bulk use creates a focus, which has become known as ‘trending’ on Twitter. A great concept in theory, until humans got hold of hashtags and stripped them of their credibility.
There are several reasons why hashtags fail. Firstly, people are ignorant of the real function of hashtags and have come to see them as ‘cool’ (yes, I’m #old). People also tend to use varied spelling for the same event/ theme, thereby nullifying all potential value of optimising their conversations for searches.
How to use a hashtag
My biggest personal grievance is that people spew hashtags all over their messages instead of forming meaningful sentences. Ironically, offenders possess the vocabulary to make 25 hashtags in one message. So, I have no option but to conclude they are simply too lazy to write coherent sentences. What many of these hyper-hash taggers don’t realise is that their content is then available in all kinds of very public places, irrespective of their public privacy settings on Facebook (or whichever social media you are hashtagging the heck out of), are set up to protect your images and content.
Let’s face it, nobody bothers to read all those hashtags anyway. So essentially, they are nothing more than an irritating waste of time and space, and the maybe meaningful message gets demoted to spam. Here’s the awful truth – hashtag crime doesn’t pay. Who is impressed by clever or complicated hashtags that are more long-winded than Mary Poppins’ #Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? No one. Yes, they will be categorised by search engines around the globe, but their uniqueness earns them an obscurity that could just as well have bought them a ticket straight to the big black hole for all its worth. In other words, they are as good as silent in cyberspace.
You might think I am overboard – I respect that but consider the following…
Hashtags have been so widely abused that Instagram has even banned some hashtags for being too generic, or for specifically referring to illegal topics. Are there ways around it? Sure, but the problem exists to the point where penalties exist to curb the misuse of hashtags.
The Super Powers of Hashtags
Conversely, correctly used hashtags can generate enormous mileage for your message. Ccompanies and organisations use them effectively to facilitate discussions on specific topics and to engage viewers in dialogues over broadcasts or current affairs. Hashtags are used to distribute news and updates regarding emergencies and disasters, as well as for marketing and promotion of products, events and causes. Industry specific hashtags have also evolved and we now have bashtags, hashflags and even cashtags!
Savvy hashtag users research the most used hashtags relating to their subject or product and choose a select few to use with their content. You can even create your own hashtag on sites like www.hashtag.org and www.twubs.com. There you can register your hashtag and track it to measure the mileage in your marketing campaign. www.hashtagig.com Provides users with the top 100 hashtags on Instagram, so you can optimise your message exposure like never before. They say that ‘Hashtags never die’ and irrespective of whether you think this is a good/ bad thing, the history of every hashtag is documented at www.topsy.com .
Hashtag Best Practices
If you love hashtags and you have inadvertently been making their lives hell, cheer up. Now you can turn over a new leaf and use specific, carefully chosen hashtags to help you engage new audiences, connect with like-minded people, and participate in meaningful conversations. Take the time and effort to be more specific with your hashtags and you will be rewarded with more focused results. Be informed about the various guidelines set out for best hashtag practices on social media platforms. For instance, Twitter focuses on the subject and theme of your content, while Instagram recommends hashtags for descriptive purposes.
So, if you want your audience to take you seriously, bear the following in mind: – If your hashtags don’t contribute anything meaningful to the message, rather avoid using them altogether. Less is definitely more – avoid using more than three strategically chosen hashtags per content entry and keep them short and sweet. Also, remember that effective hashtags contain no capital letters, no spaces and no special characters and punctuation. Only small letters and numbers.
Help give hashtags the credibility they deserve, and they will reward you with highly optimised impact and exposure.