Posted by Kayli Kunkel
What does “#” mean to you? In 2005, most would have answered, “the neglected phone button.” Today, the symbol shapes the social media frontier. The hashtag is the reigning voice of pop culture, a vital salesman, and an outlet for activism. On many occasions, the hashtag commands the world’s attention.
But how did one, simple symbol reach stardom? In 2007, a tweet by techie Chris Messina gave the pound sign (what’s that?) its revolutionary makeover.
The newly dubbed “hashtag” began to unite wide realms of the Internet into cohesive, clickable phrases. The character now caters to jokesters, hipsters, businessmen, and everyone—with an Internet connection—in between.
Twitter Headquarters went so far as to call the hashtag “the new URL.” And it’s become the standard for social media: Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram and Flickr have since followed suit.
Across all platforms, hashtags are non-exclusive, meaning any user can join any conversation. This gives Internet-wide attention to concerns, passions, and musings of the general public.
Phrases have emerged such as “hashtag revolution,” with good cause: The recent #HandsOffSyria and #Syria ignited waves of support and anger over Obama’s call for action in the country. Other politically charged hashtags have carried issues to the public’s attention (read: #OccupyWallStreet) and beyond.
“Trending” hashtags compile the hottest topics and often lead to viral sensations. These topics are viewable on users’ main Twitter feeds, and they commonly blend satire and seriousness.
Take the recent #NSAPickUpLines hashtag (i.e. “I know exactly where you’ve been all my life”), for example.
The hashtag also exploded as a vital marketing strategy. MTV is recent one success story: On September 4, the network generated 166 million tweets with a promotional hashtag #MTVHottest, a Twitter-based competition for users’ preferred pop culture stars.
Sometimes, trending hashtags are as simple as thousands revealing #MyBiggestSecret. And let’s not forget Charlie Sheen’s nationwide #Winning craze (though we wish we could).
As journalists, following the immense inflow of news events can be a headache. Hashtags can be a fantastic way to streamline, share, connect and discover.
But as a journalist, do you think the hashtag is a useful indicator of what is newsworthy, or important, to citizens? Should trending hashtags guide the way for journalists’ coverage of events? Or is this one trend we should trash?