Hashtags: The Greatest Tool of the Social Media Era

Posted by Kayli Kunkel
Hashtag Revolution - Kayli Kunkel

Illustration 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? 

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7 responses to “Hashtags: The Greatest Tool of the Social Media Era

  1. Hilary Abrahamson

    I love the idea of hashtags as a way to connect conversations across social media, and I do think it’s a very important tool for journalists. Seeing what’s trending in hashtags can let you know early on what current events matter the most to social media users, and one hashtag can link you to a goldmine of other information.

  2. As a user I think hashtags are a helpful tool when looking for information on a specific topic. As a journalist I think hashtags are an important tool in viewing the public’s opinion on current events.Sometimes hashtags aren’t always news, but are meant for entertainment. I think that its important to know the difference when reporting. You should also know how to use hashtags correctly; generally I wouldn’t use more than 1 or 2 hashtags is a tweet, otherwise it might distract your reader. As a user I only use hashtags on twitter, and am usually frustrated when I see them used on Facebook. I’m not sure if other users feel that way, but if they do, it should be taken into account.

    • I agree that it’s important to distinguish between newsworthy and entertaining trending topics (this reminds me of Morgan’s Buzzfeed blog post a few days ago). But I also think the goofiness and immaturity of some hashtag trends shouldn’t diminish the fact that hashtags are good indicators of important world events, and hints at shifting public opinion.

      Facebook hashtags annoy me, too; I think Twitter is one of the few websites to effectively use them.

      -Kayli

  3. As a journalist, I think it is a good thing to have hashtags, so people can keep in the loop without going through a bunch of tweets to find something about a particular thing.
    However, I still think journalists or anyone in general should be careful with hashtags. People have gotten in trouble for angry tweets and they could get in trouble for angry hashtags.
    -Malinda

  4. Pingback: Introducting the #Facebookhashtag | AIRR Media

  5. I think it is okay on Twitter, but as far as beyond that, it becomes excessive. I don’t think Facebook is the place for hashtags. I don’t like someone saying hashtag and a descriptive word when I’m having a conversation with them. I do think it is an effective marketing tool and many companies can benefit from this viral symbol. I like how you treated the hashtag like it was un unknown star turned into a celebrity.

  6. Pingback: How Can Twitter Help Pet Parents… | Kritter Keepers

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