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Imagine That, Inc

The Inside, Outside World of #hashtags

They have been referred to as a variety of different things … #NumberSign, #PoundSign, #tictactoe, and #hashtag. But, in today’s social media world, they are referred to by only one name - #hashtag. Hashtags are now one of the most popular methods for jumping into online topics and conversations, becoming the face of online tagging. Originally popularized by the social media platform Twitter, hashtags have now invaded all social media avenues, but do you know where hashtags really came from? The following is an attempt to show you where they started, sites that support hashtags, how to create them, and how they are used today.

The History of the Hashtag

Before the year 1960, the “#” symbol was simply known as the #poundsign or #numbersign and had very limited usage besides in text applications. But, during the 1960s, the symbol entered the tech world to denote telephone numbers. Fittingly, Bell Laboratories then gave it a moniker “octothorpe” for its eight ends. Then, in 1978, the hashtag was first used in C programming language, perhaps entering the digital world for the first time and leading to its 1993 Internet Relay Chat (IRC) online communication systems. With IRC, the “#” was used to precede the names of chat groups and topics, leading to the modern hashtag application as we know it today. On September 23, 2007, Chris Messina proposed a system for tagging and tracking topics on Twitter - a system similar to IRC – and three days later Stowe Boyd called the “#” symbol a “hashtag” and the name stuck.

The year 2009 was when the popularity of the hashtag took off, as the word “hashtag” first showed up in Google’s trends tracker results, leading Twitter to officially adopt hashtagging as a viable practice. In 2013, hashtagging jumped from the Internet world to the mainstream when Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake offered up their parody of the hashtag with a skit on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show. And now in 2015, many different social media sites support the use of hashtags.

Sites That Support the Use of Hashtags

It’s not just Twitter anymore; there are a variety of social media platforms out there that support the use of hashtags. Besides the obvious Facebook, did you know that Flickr, FriendFeed, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vimeo, and Vine are all immersed in the hashtag business? It is not surprising, however, as hashtags (when used correctly) are an invaluable way to find what you are looking for in a minimum amount of time. But, what do hashtags really do?

Hashtags can be baffling to those who do not spend a lot of time online or who are new at social media. So, in simple terms, a hashtag is a label for content, helping others who are interested in a certain topic to quickly find content on that same topic. Anyone sharing content on a relevant topic can add the hashtag label to their message, and others searching for that topic can search for that label to find other messages on that same social media platform. But, how do you create a hashtag? There are just a few simple rules to follow.

How To Create a Hashtag

A hashtag can be a single word, an abbreviation, an invented combination of letter and numbers, or a phrase. But, one thing to remember, no spaces are allowed, you cannot have punctuation or symbols other than the “#” symbol at the beginning, and they cannot consist entirely of numbers.

A hashtag always starts with the symbol “#” followed directly by the letters and/or numbers. Anyone can create a hashtag; all you have to do is think it up and start using it in your messages. But, you would be wise to find out what hashtags people are already using first to gain the maximum amount of exposure you are looking for. Typically, a hashtag is added to the end of your messages, but you can add it anywhere in the message that makes sense, as long as it’s readable. But, you want to make sure to avoid “hashtag pollution,” meaning using too many in a single message. Each social media platform has its own unique set of suggestions on how many hashtags to use, so do your research before posting. One other important thing to remember is to always make sure that your content is relevant to the hashtag(s) you use. You don’t want to be reported as being a spammer do you?

How Hashtags Are Used Today

Yes, hashtags are still an important part of Twitter, but since their invention, hashtags have taken on a life of their own. Examples of uses today include social media conversations, at conferences & events, in Twitter chats, for humor or emphasis, in brand campaigns (marketing), and for social activism. Let’s delve in deeper to each of these examples.


The standard usage of hashtags are in conversations where people talk about a topic and add appropriate hashtag labels so others interested in the topic can find your post relatively easily.

Conferences & Events

Using an event hashtag can enable you to “chat” with every attendee at a conference … something that was just not feasible before. Attendees and sponsors both benefit from this use by sharing event updates etc. Typically event hashtags will work well on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter Chats

Hashtags are a convenient method for people to have conversations on Twitter in real-time. Chat hosts set a specific time and hashtag so people can participate in real-time conversations about specific topics.

Humor or Emphasis

My favorite use of the hashtag, this method is typically used to draw attention to how you’re feeling or to a humorous post.

Brand Campaigns

In today’s digital marketing world, brands use hashtags to spread awareness of their campaigns.

Social Activism

Perhaps one of the most influential ways to utilize hashtags, social activists can start a movement to bring global awareness to their cause to get the topic on everyone’s radars.


The “#” symbol has been around for quite sometime now. But, just like anything else, it has evolved many times over to get where it is today. There are a few simple rules to follow, but once you get the hang of it, hashtags can be an invaluable resource for a variety of different applications.