It’s official. All major social networks now make use of hashtags for adding context, search, and abuse. This post is at the request of those who have recently had hashtags thrust upon them with Facebook’s recent adoption of the standard. Many people not familiar with Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and other such networks are now finding that their newsfeeds on Facebook have entirely too many linked items and they don’t understand why so many words now have a "pound sign" appended to the front of them. This post is intended to inform on what a hashtag is, why it is useful, and how to avoid abusing hashtags. The last topic is perhaps the most important.
What is a hashtag?
Simply a hashtag is a word or short phrase with no spaces that has a # (number sign, pound sign) in front of the phrase or word. (i.e. #hashtag, #SocialMedia). This simple form of tagging started on Twitter as a method of adding context to certain words because of the 140 character count. By adding a # (hashtag) to your event name (i.e. #SuperBowl) or to a topic being discussed with a group of people (i.e. #recipes) it made it easier to track in a busy newsfeed. Early adopters of Twitter had/have huge lists of people that they follow and as a result their feeds are frequently updating. In order to maintain continuity on a topic with a group of people hashtags were used to create an easy way to filter conversations. Over time these tags became universal and enabled people to see information about a broad range of topics. Tags can be created by anyone and for any purpose.
Why are hashtags useful?
A hashtag with the name of your hometown/city might be a great way to share information or events happening in the area. Additionally it would be a great way to find things going on around you. When you click on a hashtag in the major social media networks all the public posts with that tag will display. You will be able to see if your friend tagged an event in your area, or if a news organization is sharing news about your area. In many ways hashtags are a discovery tool and a curation tool. As a curation tool you can tag any type of post with a personal tag that will enable you to pull all of your posts with those tags easily. An example of this might be #BensKids being used to tag pictures of my kids. The only problem with this tagging system is that they are public and that when you share these tags with other people they might use the tags to curate things that may not fit my tagging system.
With a new audience being newly introduced to hashtags on Facebook and having no history with the social "rules" of hashtags. This means that there are going to be a lot of people creating hashtags that clutter, distract, and generally violate the purpose of hashtags. I’m going to make this short by showing the types of instances that hashtags are not appropriate.
The above example is extreme. Unfortunately it is also common. Many people create hashtag sentences. These sentences have their own context. They already say what you want to say without a need to add context. Long hashtags are annoying, unreadable, and generally don’t add value. Don’t do it. When you think you’d coined a witty phrase and have the temptation to turn it into a hashtag…just DON’T.
#Ben #Kids #Family #Pictures #Vacation #Silly #Fun #Beach #Summer #SandCastles #Shovels #PicNic #EatingPizza
The above example is also quite common. People will tag their Instagram images with every possible idea in the image. Some people will tag a post with dozens of tags to try and hit every possible category that might get them attention from people following tags. (I’ll get to that one soon) This hashtag cloud is too much context for a simple picture. The picture is of my family on the beach with a sandcastle in the summer eating pizza….do I really need to tag it with every idea displayed in the image? Think about the image in terms of how you might want to find it in the future. Would it be good enough to tag it with #Vacation2013 ? Just think before you tag your posts with every tag you’ve ever seen. Will this tag help me find the post later? Does it add value to the post? Will someone else use this tag to find information that I want them to find that is relevant to this specific post? If you get through these questions and still have a dozen tags…remove 3/4 of the tags anyway.
Attention Hungry hashtags
This is similar to the above type of tagging except it uses dozens of common public tags for the purpose of getting attention. This might be dozens of political hashtags with slight variances. (i.e. #TCOT #P2 #ObamaSucks #Conservative #liberal #Occupy #Nazis #RandomPoliticalTag). Jamming your posts with tags that will reach a bunch of people that might follow those tags is just begging for attention. As a business this is particularly bad form. Do NOT pad all of your posts with hashtags with product names or services.
Single Use Hashtag
Exactly how many people will use that tag to find this one picture of me wearing a tank top in the snow? Will I ever use it to find this one picture? Will anyone else use it for a picture they took of themselves or me? This hashtag is useless. Don’t create a hashtag that you have no intention of using again or that has no use for anyone else.
Hashtags are awesome. They can add impact to our social media posts. They can help us find new and interesting things. They can keep us organized. Hashtags are great, until they are abused. Please be kind and don’t abuse hashtags. They are defenseless and so are the rest of us when you use them.