It makes me smile and shake my head at the same time when I hear my older relatives talk about social media, especially hashtags. What they know as a “number sign” or “pound sign” as it was called back in the #DarkAges before social media exploded, is now the HASHTAG.
I know that the elders in my family will never accept or understand social media, and don’t get me started on symbols that have double meanings from what they were taught in their one-room schoolhouse! This past weekend I found myself TRYING to explain hashtags to one of my “seasoned” relatives. After several discussions, examples and follow up questions, we were no closer to an understanding, in fact, I think they were more confused if that’s even possible. I’m pretty sure diving out of a plane without a parachute would have been less painful!
Maybe if I had this explanation in my back pocket, it might have gone a lot smoother..probably not!
The technical name for hashtag is octothorpe. It’s the official name for the # symbol, but what does it mean? It’s actually a made-up word, invented in the same laboratories where the telephone came from. The scientists at Bell Laboratories modified the telephone keypad in the early 1960s and added the # symbol to send instructions to the telephone operating system. Since the # symbol didn’t have a name, the technicians thought one up. They knew it should be called octo- something because it had eight ends around the edge. What happened next is not entirely clear. According to one report, Bell Lab employee Don MacPherson named it after the Olympian Jim Thorpe (who is local to me). Another former employee claims it was a nonsense word, meant as a joke. Another unverifiable report is much more etymologically satisfying: The Old Norse word thorpe meant “farm or field,” so octothorpe literally means “eight fields.”
Hashtags are used to group together posts about a particular topic. For example, any post that includes the hashtag #sportsapparel will appear in social media search results for the search term #sportsapparel. This helps the searcher find and participate in discussions about sports apparel.
It isn’t just about how to help your business, but more importantly, how hashtags can help your audience. A successful hashtag will deliver what the consumer is looking for, or promote an event or call to action that is important to the end-user. There must be a benefit for the consumer before there will be a benefit for you.
In the end, just remember hashtags are more effective if they are short, precise, easy to spell and easy to remember, and they should give the reader a clear idea about what content will be delivered.
Have a goal. What are you trying to achieve with hashtags? Promote a sale or event, build your brand, or deliver key content to customers?
Don’t go overboard with using hashtags. Hashtags can be fun, but there is a limit to how many you can use before fun turns into spam. Don’t abuse it, you should only use meaningful tags that relate to your business, brand, the products, and services you provide, or the specific post you are writing.
The best rule of thumb is to keep it simple and research. You want people to easily remember your hashtag, so make it memorable with witty words related to the event, product or content. Next, make sure you search the hashtag you intend to use prior to using it. You have no idea what others have used that hashtag for and you certainly don’t want your business associated with any controversial topics.
So as with anything, start with the end in mind. If you’re going to use hashtags, answer this important question first: What’s my objective?
Knowing precisely what you want to achieve will help determine how you use hashtags and ensure there is consistency in your brand message that won’t confuse your audience. Whatever you do, don’t just slap up a few hashtags that you think are keywords people might search for.