Oddly enough, hash tags were invented alongside the pound (‘lb’) abbreviation, around 700 years ago. The initial appearance of ‘lb’ appeared with a line through the centre of it (‘lb’). Moving from the end of a number to the beginning, the hash tag evolved to replace the word ‘number’ (#1), eventually mutating into the Twitter friendly symbol – ‘#’ – we use daily with a very different meaning.
Hash tags are now a symbol of metadata, utilised to stipulate a topic or name which generates a clickable link, to enable users with similar interests or topics to engage in conversation or follow those topics. Hash tagged topics are not moderated and are never ‘retired’. A single hash tag can be used for many things, for example ‘#Tip’ can be placed within a post to relay useful information or absolute nonsense, by scholars or pranksters. Spelling can also be an issue. But they do have their uses – want to know more about #WorldHealthDay or even some #PositiveThinking motivation? Click on the hash tag, read all about it, view the latest images and feel informed and inspired.
Originally rejected as being ‘too geeky’ by Twitter, hash tags have only been utilised in their current form since 2009. The hash tag now also provides a way for social media users to express their emotions, #great. There are plenty of #awkward posts out there too, thanks to the number of teenagers using the site.
When the same hash tag is used by many people, Twitter reports this via ‘trending topics’, which of course offer a direct route for Twitter voyeurs into the hot topics of the day. You stand more chance of your post being read if it relates to a hot topic, or ‘trend’.
However, the hash tag has quickly outgrown the environment it grew up in. The text messages I receive on my mobile – outside of any social media app – contain #hungry, #tired, #bored, along with an endless list of abbreviations: “HIG. POS. TTG. TBC, TTYL #awkward” is now an actual text conversation.
The word hash tag is even said in conversation: watch Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon demo how it’s done (or not!) here. US retailer JC Penney even ran a scheme where customers received a discount if they spoke the word ‘hash tag’ at the till.
Hash tags are now used across various social media sites; Facebook and Instagram are two which have recently bowed to the pressure to allow hash tags, whilst LinkedIn has introduced them, then removed them at a later date.
In short, utilise the hash tag sparingly to allow others to find your #topic. If you want to message someone on Twitter use their Twitter name instead (@Total_ltd for example). You can use hash tags on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Tumblr. Grammar and punctuation has little to do with it; so it’s no to spaces in between words and no punctuation within your hash tag itself.
The question now is, how much longer will hash tags be utilised? With advancements in trend monitoring, I have a feeling their time may be strictly #limited and we’ll all be referring to the nostalgia of the hash tag in years in just a few years. What do you think?