The purpose of hashtags is to create a clickable link to follow a threaded conversation around a topic. They also are used when searching social networks, so you can track such things as conferences and sporting events.
The hashtag concept originally was conceived by Chris Messina in August 2007 for tracking conversations on Twitter. This was before Twitter had search functionality and before threaded tweets or cool third-party services like Storify were around.
These days, people are screwing up hashtag usage big time. For example, hashtags don't work on LinkedIn, yet I keep seeing them being used there. They do work on Facebook, barely, since it's mainly social media marketers who use them and not everyday users.
Part of the problem is lazy marketers who are posting their tweets directly to other social networks through such services as Hootsuite and Buffer (this is user error). This even gets more confusing when users share replies and retweets from Twitter on other sites, such as Facebook. But I digress ...
I'm also seeing people use multiple hashtags on #every #single #word in their tweets. This is pointless, because who will click these links? What is this accomplishing?
Here's another important point about hashtags. If you are promoting a link to your latest blog post or a helpful article, using a hashtag will give the recipient an extra thing to click — which may end up losing them.
The hashtag may pique more interest than the link itself. If users click it, they will be served a page of results from other people using the hashtag. Why give them another place to go when you want them to go to your site to read your amazing blog post?
If you're on Twitter discussing a popular topic, you can use that hashtag to let others know you are talking about it. For example, during the Nashville flood, we used #nashvilleflood. Ideally, the hashtag may become so popular that it trends and is noticed by large media outlets and thousands of people.
As I write this, people are using #SaveOurTigers to raise awareness about World Tiger Day. Who doesn't want to save tigers, right?
Hashtags also can be used for a bit of fun, like the popular #1letterwrongmovie: Jurassic Pork, Pilates of the Caribbean, Toys N the Hood and Perminator come to mind as examples. Hashtags are also popular on Instagram, so users can search for photos of specific topics, events and destinations.
Conferences, Use Hashtags!
I recently presented in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, at an amazing music and social media conference called MoSo. The organizers chose the #moso2014 hashtag, so attendees and organizers could track discussions about the conference. I take it a step further and use my tweets with the hashtag to create Twitter Lists. More on that here.
Go easy on the hashtags. Think about how you're using them. Are people going to click the hashtag? Do they even need to? Are they going to find your tweet or photo because you used the hashtag? These are important questions to consider.
I work with my clients to help them understand how best to use social media for marketing. Leave a comment with a question or get in touch.
This article originally appeared in The Tennessean newspaper.