Hashtags are everywhere on the internet—selfies on Instagram, millions of tweets, Facebook posts and now even LinkedIn updates. Do you remember what a hashtag was before it became a prominent part of our digital culture? As it turns out, this tiny symbol has been associated with many different things over the years.

Originally, the hashtag denoted a sharp note in music—the black keys on a piano, for instance—and still does, today. With the invention of the telegraph, the ‘#’ began to be used as a symbol to denote the pound (lb) in the US. When it showed up on telephone keypads made by Bell Labs in the 1960s, it was grandly titled the ‘octothorpe.’ A decade later, it became a fixture of computer programming, and programmers would refer to it as the ‘hash.’

Brief History of the Hashtag

Birth of the hashtag. Most people think that the hashtag first emerged online on Twitter. While it is true that the trend first took off on the micro-blogging site, the true birth of the hashtag was in 1988, when it was used on Internet Relay Chats (IRCs) to label and categorize similar groups.

Created for the internet, by the internet. So, when Twitter users were struggling to retrieve information on a particular subject around 2007, former Google and Uber designer, Chris Messina suggested using the ‘#’ to denote groups, as was done in IRCs. Steve Boyd made it further clear for early adopters, and gave the symbol its new name by blogging: “Hashtags = Twitter Groupings”.

Twitter adopts the hashtag as a standard. The use of hashtags had become widespread. They were being used to connect conversations, spread news during emergencies and boost public campaigns. In June 2009, Twitter officially adopted hashtags as part of its platform. Now, typing in a hashtag will automatically link you to the global hashtag, and you can see how well your hashtag is performing.

Other platforms come on board. Instagram came onto the scene in 2010 with its hashtag game already in play. In 2012, Google+ added hashtags. Come June 2013, and Facebook had followed suit, with Pinterest and Flickr in tow. Since, LinkedIn has also incorporated hashtags into their platform.

Hashtags for Your Brand or Business

Today, hashtags are universal and find themselves across all major social networking platforms. Businesses or brand owners must remember that the hashtag culture is carried across platforms—and as a hashtag connects the dots between similar topics and groups, so does it connect the dots between different platforms. This can allow brands to remain consistent in their messaging and create a dedicated following as well.

However, in addition to making our world smaller and more connected, the internet has also given us plenty of ways to expand. Today, everyone—whether they are a LEGO-building nine-year-old or an international runway model—can have a voice online. With that comes an almost never-ending stream of content that is easy to drown in.

In such a crowded world, it can become quite challenging to keep your community engaged and focused, especially as a business or a brand. Hashtags can be the ultimate connector if used well. They are arguably one of the most powerful tools in outreach and digital marketing today. Whatever platforms you may choose to be on, we have some advice for you.

Twitter: As a business, using hashtags can give you a 50% increase in engagement. 1-2 hashtags is ideal, but more than that can drop engagement by an average of 17%.

Instagram: When it comes to using hashtags on Instagram, more is better. In fact, posts with 11 or more hashtags see the most interaction. Go all out and build your #community.

Facebook: Things work a little differently here. Skip the hashtags altogether if you’re trying to boost your business or find followers because Facebook posts with no hashtags perform better. This could be due to the perception of the hashtag’s place being on Twitter or Instagram.

Other ways to optimize hashtags across platforms

  1. Make it memorable and simple, yet unique. A very broad topic, such as #travel, will drown you out. But #CampingInPhoenix is easy to remember and distinguish from others.
  2. No spaces or punctuation can be used in a hashtag. So opt for simple words and phrases, and keep it short.
  3. You can have too much of a good thing. Don’t fall prey to hashtag overstuffing—use just a few and choose them wisely.
  4. Be consistent. Don’t keep adding hashtags over the course of the campaign. Not only will you confuse users, but you will also dilute the impact of the campaign.
  5. Capitalize the words used in the hashtags. That makes it #EasierToRead.

The impact of hashtags is discernible in the real world too. With movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, they are increasingly finding relevance in offline spaces as well. So even if you take your campaign offline for greater effectiveness, make sure you don’t lose the hashtag. Especially so if your hashtags have been shared widely or have become synonymous with your campaign.

Now that you know what hashtags can do for your business, use them to give your content a wider reach and make them easy to be found. But to make the most out of this, your focus still needs to be on creating the best content that you can!

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