If you work in a company or industry that frequently attends, hosts or promotes conferences then you may be familiar with the moment you first used a hashtag. Such events as SXSW utilize hashtags to help Twitter users quickly filter through the Twitter Universe, simply by searching for #SXSW.
The use of hashtags actually started way back in 2007 when designer Chris Messina suggested using the pound sign as a way to organize conversations on Twitter. Over time, the introduction of apps like Instagram offered similar search methods as Twitter, as hashtags allowed users to quickly find a favorite topic or theme.
Instagram is a great example of where hashtags went wrong.
Instagram, for instance, allows users to cross-post by simply checking multiple apps when publishing a photograph. Seeing as Facebook is a photo-sharing heavy social media outlet, many photos on Facebook quickly became bumped posts originally shared on Instagram.
Unfortunately, hashtags on Facebook did not start out as clickable links. Non-Facebook users, who failed to read the “view on Instagram” text above the photograph, joined the hashtag trend as a fun way to make up completely obscure phrases or run-on sentences such as, #omgisitfridayyetbecauseimreadyforhappyhour.
A few things have changed since then, including Facebook’s ability to link hashtags allowing businesses and general Facebook users alike to search for various trends and subjects. Hashtags have remained a popular craze on social media over the last seven years, thanks in part to a few coined phrases, celebrities, events and general pop culture.
Enter Charlie Sheen.
The former “Two and a Half Men” star joined Twitter back in 2011. During the height of his very public breakdown, involving a lot of women and a lot of illegal substances, Mr. Sheen turned to Twitter as a way to express his feelings–so to speak.
Through his jumble and rants, Mr. Sheen used a variety of key phrases to stake his claim in the public eye and fight off his “haters.” Such posts included one of his most popular, “The only thing I’m addicted to right now is #winning.” And so #winning became the next most-tweeted hashtag across all social media.
Aside from world news events and tragedies, celebrities serve as one of the biggest groups of influencers when it comes to hashtags. Whether they’re promoting their latest song, album, movie or TV show, celebrities rely on hashtags to pave the way for pop culture’s latest obsession.
One of Katy Perry’s songs features the phrase, “epic fail”—a hashtag trend that still remains popular for social media users expressing the issues and accidents of their everyday, ordinary lives. Celebrities’ use of hashtags filters to the general public. College-age fans of Taylor Swift use her favorite, #blessed, to brag about a passing grade, a date with their crush or their college team making it to the finals.
Tween users on social rely on the likes of celebrities like Justin Beiber and Rihanna to set the stage for the next big social trend. These days? #swag and #yolo. Other favorite celebrity hashtags?
The use of hashtags serves both good and bad. The narcissist and the considerate. The reader and the audience. Sometimes with a purpose, but most often with no purpose at all.
Hashtags aren’t all annoying. Some advantage has come out of their use, including the ability for users to quickly search for trending news stories, natural disasters, and holiday information. After the Boston Marathon bombing, the country came together using #BostonStrong. T-shirts were made, news reports were published, and counties across the country hosted fundraisers and in-memory running events in support of #BostonStrong.
As more social media outlets add the ability to link hashtags, users across the board are able to join in on the conversation, regardless of their preferred social site, helping share stories, news updates and gossip.