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Hashtags and How to Use Them

By: Athena Alexander


Hashtags are a commonly used social media tool, but what are they? Where did they come from? How do they help promote social media posts?

What are Hashtags?

A hashtag is a word or phrase prefaced with a "#" that, when clicked, contains information and content related to the word or phrase being hash-tagged. Hashtags are used to grow awareness around a cause/issue, promote content, categorize information, and as mini search engines to locate information. For example, #CaliforniaRealEstate will pull up relevant hits on real estate in California with just a few keystrokes. Hashtags can be broad (#food or #cute) or specific (#BlueIphoneXR or #BabyPigmyGoat). The more specific the hashtag, the more specific the information retrieved.

Hashtags are versatile and are used for topics being actively discussed nationally or even globally. Many social media platforms feature a trending sidebar where users can check for topics that are currently booming. Using a trending hashtag boosts posts, raises engagement, and can attract new viewers to content. The most valuable function of the hashtag is the potential to link and group millions of pieces of content under a condensed phrase or even a single word. They help make content discoverable, drive traffic to certain platforms or content, and can create trends.

History of Hashtags

The first documented use of the hashtag, also known as a tag, was in 1988 on the platform Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to help group topics, forms, and videos on a specific topic. IRC is a messaging system that uses tags to help users find specific information. This idea of grouping information together under a word or phrase is still used with the current hashtag.

In 2007, San Diego reporter Stowe Boyd used a hashtag to spread information about a fire. He wanted people to get information about the fire as he reported on it as well as other news about the San Diego Area. Boyd coined the name "hashtag" on his blog, and the name took off!

In 2009, Twitter adopted the use of the hashtag and officially input it into the app. Any post with a hashtag was automatically hyperlinked, and a Trending Topics page was added where users could see the most popular hashtags of that day.

In 2022, hashtags are now a common way to spread information online. They are most popular on Twitter but are also used on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook.

How to Use Hashtags

Hashtags are very simple to use! For a post, whether it is a picture, video, or tweet, in the caption, type # and then any phrase or word after that goes with the post. One hashtag can be used, or ten, or twenty! If extra hashtags are used, they can also be written in the comments of the post to draw more engagement to it. Anything associated with the post that includes a hashtag will be grouped with the initial post.

For a Story, a feature normally found on Instagram or Facebook, one can upload a picture or video they want to use for the story and type in hashtags right on the screen. The user can leave them on the screen, hide the tags behind a photo or video, or swipe them off the screen to the side where they cannot be seen by the viewer.

Hashtags Boost Engagement

Hashtags are public and easily accessible with a single click. Hashtags label and group information so they become a categorizing system for content, automatically attaching it to any other posted content with that hashtag. For example, let’s say there’s a business selling tacos in Westlake, California. They use #taco or #tacowestlake when they post photos on Instagram and videos on Tiktok. Anytime a viewer looks at #taco or more specifically #tacowestlake, they may see the taco business’s posts and are able to go directly to the taco page.

Although hashtags can be used on every platform, a few use them more than others. Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok have embedded features that allow users to see trending topics, and thus, these platforms attract viewers who use hashtags. 

Using hashtags will only be beneficial for a company. Hashtags will boost your posts by driving more traffic to the content, categorizing the posts so they are more easily found, and are simple to use! So why not use them?