101 Series: What Is a Hashtag?
You’ve heard the term “hashtag.” If you’re on Twitter, you’ve almost certainly seen it. You may have even seen one in the lower corner of your favorite TV shows recently. But what exactly is a hashtag? The term frequently gets thrown around, but you might not actually know what it is. Well, in this 101 Series, we’re here to help you understand exactly what a hashtag is.
Twitter defines a hashtag the following way:
The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.
A hashtag is simply a number sign with text following it (ex. #sample). It essentially acts as a filing system that allows people to assign tags to certain topics, and letting others find the topic easily. When you click on a hashtag via Twitter, it will show other tweets that have been tagged the same way.
By knowing (or finding out) what a specific tag is, people can easily follow and/or join in a particular conversation. For example, fans of the Fox show Fringe started a hashtag campaign on Twitter with the hope of saving the show. Fans would use the title of the week’s episode as the hashtag. The goal was to turn the titles into trending topics. Since trending topics are chosen, in part, on surges of popularity, #fringe would be more difficult to become a trend. But as the title of each episode would be new each week, it would be easier to tap into the fan base and generate trending topics. The fan-generated effort was soon supported by the network, which featured the tags on screen during the episode. This effort has been credited (even if unofficially) as being a major force in the show’s renewal.
Another example of hashtag use is Twitter chats. One example is #journchat which focuses on PR and journalism; another is #CmgrChat which focuses on community management. A Twitter chat is exactly what it sounds like: a chat on Twitter, which any twitter user can join, at a pre-selected time. Hashtags are used to follow along and participate. Each time someone comments, they simply add the appropriate tag to their tweet.
Hashtags have moved beyond Twitter and are commonplace on other platforms such as Google+ and Instagram. On each, they act the same way and with the same purpose as on Twitter.
In short, a hashtag is a content-discovery and filing system. Discover. Tag. Participate.