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The History Of Hashtag: A True Cinderella Story

| Posted in category Facebook Google+ Linkedin Pinterest Social Media Twitter

Hashtags have become an integral part of our social media lives that have a clear projection in our ''real lives''. They are everywhere – on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, etc. Have we ever thought of the origin of hashtag and when exactly it became so ''mainstream''?

Hashtags didn't always have such prominence in our lives and their transformation can be called a true Cinderella story that you can read in this post. Let's start from the very beginning.

Time before Social Media

You'll be surprised but hashtag was firstly introduced in 14 century, spelled like ''lb'' and meant a pound in weight. In spite of its true origin the so-called pound sign has acquired some extra meaning as a hashtag on Social Media.

In 1988 hashtags were firstly used on a platform named Internet Relay Chat. Basically it's one of the first protocols on the internet that was used to send messages in real time. Hashtags were used to group messages and various information such as images, text content, videos and the like. # sign was used for its primary purpose – search.

Twitter launches hashtags

Twitter was founded in 2006 and became one of the most popular social networks very quickly. However Twitter functionality was and still remains pretty straight-forward and easy-to-use. Users loved Twitter but felt that there's something missing, something that could help them communicate better and search better.

Chris Messina who now works at Google (what a coincidence, ha?) suggested using the # (pound) sign to imitate groups on Twitter. Now Chris is known as the inventor of the hashtag.

 chris messina tweet

However the invention of the term ''hashtag'' belongs to Stowe Boyd, a blogger who wrote about it first in 2007.

Twitter was pretty slow at noticing the tendency, admitting and implementing it. It started grouping conversations by hashtags but quickly decided it wasn't worth it. The reasons for this decisions are unclear but it's said that folks at Twitter treated the whole idea in a skeptical manner as the technological implementation had very little to do with what we call ''progress''. Alternative theory is that Twitter thought hashtags were ''too nerdy''.

October 2007 was marked with the 1st viral hashtag in history #sandiegofire. Journalists used it to keep finger on the pulse of a dramatic situation associated with a series of fires in San Diego. The tendency of using hashtags to mark significant political and cultural events spread like fire on the social network.

first viral hashtag in history

 

In 2009 Twitter officially launched hashtags and started to hyperlink all the words that go after the # sign. The era of hashtags started to flourish.

Other social networks work hard to keep up

The tendency was also adopted by other social networks that saw great potential in hashtags usage.

In January 2011 Instagram started supporting hashtags to complement photos shared. Users got the ability to search for new accounts and follow some of them based on common interests, location, event, etc.

instagram hashtags

On October 12, 2011 Google+ started supporting hashtags too. Autocompletion was implemented on January 17, 2012. This year Google enabled Google.com and Google.ca users to see G+ public posts shared with hashtags among regular search results.  Remarkably Google also shows results with hastags from other social networks too.

google+ hashtags

LinkedIn launched hashtag support on February 12, 2013. Some viewed it as a move to compensate the denied Twitter integration. In spite of their growing popularity LinkedIn withdraw hashtags on July 29, 2013. The explanation was somewhat awkward, LinkedIn was eager to focus on other functionality and top priorities that sometimes mean that you have to stop supporting other initiatives. Apparently, LinkedIn saw little potential in hashtags. Time will show whether it was a right decision.

linkedin hashtags

Finally Facebook launched hashtag support in June 2013. Until then content discovery was a big issue Facebook couldn't resolve. Hyperlinked hashtags are being slowly adopted by Facebook users and looks like they are not going to become so popular like Twitter hashtags. Posts with hashtags drive less engagement according to recent statistics. Looks like users don't use hastags for search; they just scroll down their newsfeed and find all they need. Facebook is currently very careful about hashtags functionality and is figuring out how people use them to make necessary adjustments.

facebook hashtags

Full list of websites that support hashtags

Even though most social networks thought and still sometimes think hashtags are somewhat clumsy users made their choice in 2007.  Social platforms and sites that want to succeed make no excuses and obey users' preferences.

Below is the list of all sites that support hashtags according to Wikipedia:

App.Net – social networking and microblogging service which enables users to write messages up to 256 characters.

Diaspora software and social network – ambitious project that took off at Kickstarter in June 2010. It's a platform built to offer an alternative to privacy sensitive social media users. People can set up their own servers (pods) and host all the data they share online there: images, status updates, videos and other info users might not feel comfortable to share with Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook

FriendFeed – real-time feed aggregator that allows users to keep track of feeds on social sites, blogs, bookmarking websites, and things of the kind in just one place.

Gawker Media  and all related sites – online media company and blogging network that's well-known for their high quality approach to blogging.

Google+

Instagram

Kickstarter – crowdfunding platform with a mission to enable the world to see creative projects with little funding and help them.

Orkut – social network owned by Google. Today it's fully managed by Google Brazil due to its exceptional popularity in Brazil, India, and Japan.

Pinterest

Sina Weibo – one of the most popular social networks in China that's something in between Twitter and Facebook.

Tout – real-time video publishing platform where users can share 15-second videos. Tout was a nice alternative to YouTube in terms of hastags usage as YouTube disabled hashtags support in 2011.

Tumblr – microblogging platform with 100 short-form blogs.

Twitter

VK – one of the most popular social networks in the Russian-speaking region and the second biggest network in Europe after Facebook.

Vine – mobile app owned by Twitter that enables users to create 6-second video clips and share them on Twitter and Facebook.

Hashtags transformations and perspectives

Today hashtags are technically something more than a way to group conversations. They perform a number of important functions and now have a few directions to be developed into something bigger:

  • Search –mostly hashtags were so quickly adopted because they made the search procedure much easier, it still remains their main function.
  • Keywords – attentive marketers have already noticed this growing tendency. If one searches for a specific hashtag on a social site the results can include not only the ones with a hyperlinked hashtag but also posts that contain this word even though the user didn't hastag it.
  • Hashtags hijacking – hashtag that you choose to devote to one topic can be a subject to speculation by your competitors or even by your own clients. For example the famous hashtag #mcdstories that McDonalds used to ask people to share their pleasant memories of the restaurant turned to be a disaster because clients started to share the stories that made this restaurant chain look pure evil.
  • Hashtags abuse – anything popular will be overused, hashtags are not an exception and while initially they were used to spread important news or events, now youngsters all over the world use them to make their tweets, posts, updates, etc. look more, say, cool and posh. Sometimes it looks even ridiculous and below you can watch a video that mocks at this annoying tendency.

 

How Social Media experts use hashtags

To prove you that hashtags can be used in a right manner and do you the world of good, I've made a brief analysis of top SMM influencers Twitter profiles.

Gary Vaynerchuk is probably the social media expert I'd kidnapped to make him teach his wisdom. He's sorta wine expert who is remarkably talented in Social Media.

gary vaynerchuk twitter

Garry's style is gracious, he rarely uses more than two hastags per tweet and normally they visually stand out to ensure people could read text without any problems. There are no tweets where several hashtags follow one another in a seamless row. Garry either uses popular hashtags such as #thankyou or #momentum or some branded hashtags such as #RightHook that stands for his book name.

Surprisingly hashtags also perform a visual function in Gary's tweets, he masterfully uses them to emphasize this or that word. The hashtag itself can link his tweet to a vast number of tweets that are devoted to other things, but the word will stand out and be emphasized.

gary vaynerchuk tweets

Takeaways:

  • 1-2 hashtags per tweet
  • Balance of non-commercial and branded tweets
  • Visual appeal

Ann Handley is responsible for all things content at Marketing Profs and has a huge followers' list on Twitter.

ann handley twitter

Ann's style differs from the one described above, she chooses hashtags carefully and normally writes just one hashtag per tweet. Ann rarely uses hashtags with a broad meaning like #thankyou and her approach is more precise.

The balance between branded and non-branded tweets is more subtle, Ann uses branded tweets only when it's appropriate and is very careful with self-promotion.  She never misses an opportunity to use a hashtag that belongs to a certain conference or meeting.

Takeaways:

  • 1 hashtag per tweet
  • Insert hashtags for a reason
  • Conference-related hashtags use are a must if you visit one or talk about one

Those are just two examples and you can analyze other twitter profiles yourself. Nevertheless you can already spot some similarities: a good social media expert will never stuff his tweets with too many hashtags and will choose them wisely.

Why hashtags are important

I was planning to make a list of reasons but then I suddenly saw this tweet.

tweet

It's not really the question of importance. It's something that's already here and you either learn to use it for your own good or you stay in your cave.

As we can see the hashtag is no longer this meaningless symbol as it used to be in the 14th century and certainly it's not even the same it was in 2007.

Hashtags were not initially supported by social networks and some still deny their hidden power and usability advantages for users but ordinary people keep choosing them over and over again proving that there's no magic in this Cinderella-like transformation, only pure confidence that hashtags can make our lives and web experience more enjoyable.



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