The ascendancy of the #hashtag

By Sarah Lennard-Brown

Hashtags have become a major part of social media today, but what are they and why are they so popular?

On June 13th 2013, Facebook announced that they will be implementing clickable hashtags, almost 6 years after Twitter. The Hashtag (#) is used as a method of grouping information together in social media platforms like Twitter. Technically it is a form of metadata used for categorising, context and tracking information, but what caused Facebook to give in and adopt the hash tag? What benefits do hashtags bring?

The first ever hashtag was used on Twitter in August 2007 by Chris Messina of Google with this post:

"how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?".

Messina's tweet was using a "#"to initiate discussion about Barcamp, a user-generated conference site that he co-founded. Hashtags are used in a similar way today, generating discussion and creating trends.

Today hashtags are used to group an enormous range of topics. The "Trends" section of Twitter allows users to see the most popular hashtags and phrases of the day, usually based on their current location.

From August 2011 to August 2012, the five most popular hashtags used were:

  1. #moscow (following the controversial election of Putin and the arrest of the band Pussy Riot)
  2. #arsenal (the world famous London football club)
  3. #takemeout (the U.K. gameshow)
  4. #freedom (ranging from political protests in the Middle East to patriotic Americans)
  5. #nadarkhani (Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to death)

Hashtags are very easy to use and offer a quick and simple way to engage in the online community. Companies and organisations use hashtags to gain an insight into audience behaviour, product interests and even endorse celebrities at a low cost.

There are many other services that support hashtags, such as: Instagram, Vine, Google+, Pinterest and Tumblr, but they focus more on categorising rather than encouraging participation. Currently, Twitter is the main site for hashtag use and it's clear that Facebook have seen the benefits and want to join the fun.

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Sarah Lennard-Brown, Director of Ecru Sarah Lennard-Brown, Director of Ecru

This article was written by Sarah Lennard-Brown, Director of Ecru. If you have any questions regarding this article or would like to discuss your next web site project with Sarah please call her on 0800 0433 963 or get in touch via our contact form.

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