The #hashtag rant: #DoYouKnowWhatYoureDoing?

The hashtag rant: #doknowhatyou’redoing?

Hashtags have made a big difference to our online experience. These metadata tags became popular on Twitter as a way to group discussions, and have since spread like #wildfire to the likes of Pinterest, Google+, Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram as a way to categorise photos, trace brands, and group just about anything else. Even Facebook joined the party earlier this year.

Whether it’s #arabspring channeling popular protest in parts of the Middle East, #selfie bringing together ‘trout pouts’ and narcissists around the world, #modernseinfeld breathing new life into a classic sitcom of yesteryear, or #shareacoke encouraging user-generated content to promote one of the world’s most recognisable brands, the hashtag has become omnipresent. It’s even earned a spot in The Oxford English Dictionary.

The way people use hashtags is changing, too. As well as being a great way to categorise information and keep abreast of debate or discussion on a certain topic, trend or brand, hashtags are increasingly being used as a contextual or conversational tool rather than for their intended purpose. People are actually speaking in hashtags.

You know what I mean. It’s your Instagram follower who posts a photo after a big night, tagging it #whydidihavesuchabignight? It’s the Facebook friend who tags a photo of a decadent dessert #thebestdessertofmylife.

Not surprisingly, there’s not too much to be found under any of these hashtags. If that Instagram user had instead tagged that photo #bignight, and the Facebook user tagged that dessert #bestdessert, it could, and probably would, have joined thousands of other such photos and posts, or joined a concurrent discussion online. But is that even what the posters were wanting in the first place? I suspect not.

Here are a few tips to consider before using a hashtag:
  1. Consider the social media channel you’re using; they’re all different beasts. The use of hashtags on Facebook, for example, is still fledgling, and the jury is out as to whether they’re proving as effective as they are on Twitter. Remember too that content can increasingly be posted across several social media channels with a single click.
  2. If you’re going to use a hashtag, try and work it into the body of your text as opposed to leaving it on the end.
  3. Go easy. No one wants to see a dozen or more hashtags on every post or photo.
  4. Think about your hashtagand search for it online – before you post it; different people use the same words or phrases for different things. Don’t find out the hard way, like singer Susan Boyle did.
  5. Keep it short. The most successful ones are the shortest and most simple. #Family is better than #mybigfamily; #outnow is better than #getyourcopytoday.

Perhaps most importantly, though, ask yourself why you’re using a hashtag, and whether one is even necessary.

I know they’re all the rage. I know ‘all the cool kids’ are using them, but consider this; the use of a hashtag could open up your candid snaps or comments to the whole world. Is that what you want? In a brand’s sense, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, but in a personal sense, I’m not so sure.


More reading:

5 lessons from Coca Cola’s new content marketing strategy
At last! How to describe social media to your mum
20 ideas for content that people love to share on social media
The day social media killed your job chances


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*Image courtesy of Ember Seminars


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