by Geoff Gillette
For baby boomers and those born before that, it was known as the ‘pound’ sign. More often than not, it was used when telephoning to indicate to an automated service which person you wanted to talk to. Since 2007, though, it's gained a new identity which has now become widely known (and by some widely despised) as the "hashtag."
Hashtags were originally a Twitter phenomenon, used to categorize the 140-character messages to make them searchable. Users could follow and add to conversations by looking it up by #hashtag. As with all things though, it has evolved over time and has spread to other social media.
And therein lies the problem.
Many hashtag users have begun to co-opt the simple categorizing tool to become a part of language. A sort of emotional abbreviation similar to emoticons but more confusing in many ways. For individuals, hashtag abuse is just something that is annoying which might make you #sigh in irritation. But for a company, hashtag abuse is a slow form of social suicide.
In the business world, hashtags can be a wonderful means of promoting and strengthening your brand. It allows you to cap off social media posts with a simple word or phrase that captures the essence of your brand. Users can not only search for it, but they can use it in their own social media forays as a means of fostering dialogue and acting as ambassadors for your brand.
Because this new communications tool is still mutating, though, it is more imperative than ever to have a good understanding of how to use them and (more importantly) NOT use them. A couple of tips:
By way of demonstration, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake did abrilliant riff on the hashtag phenomenon, showing that where hashtags are concerned, less is definitely more.
No hashtags were harmed in the making of this blog post.
Tell us in the comments, are hashtags still useful or has the pop culture-ization of them rendered them largely irrelevant?