A hashtag is a word or a phrase following the # symbol without spaces. Hashtags were created by Chris Messina, now a Google employee, on Twitter in August 2007. Chris was searching for a way to group conversations with his followers on Twitter. Today, Twitter and other social media platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest, have fully integrated the hashtag and it’s the easiest way to search for and find out what Twitter users are currently talking about.
While the hashtag feature has been a driving force behind Twitter’s popularity, it’s also been the cause of a $50 million lawsuit against Twitter. In October 2012, a French court ordered Twitter to reveal specific online users tweeting anti-Semitic hashtags and the social media giant refused. Following the refusal, the Union of Jewish French Students filed the $50 million lawsuit on March 20. There are French laws forbidding hate speech in any forum. Twitter contends that it’s an American based company abiding by American laws and policies.
Hashtags have the power to put posts in front of the people who will care about them. When utilized and circulated corrected, hashtags can be a powerful force in the community. The hashtag’s true power is its ability to direct millions of eyes to one conversation. Then, allow people to interact with the conversation and spread it even further.
In March, an Oklahoma City family used Twitter and a hashtag to rally community support behind an 18-year-old cancer patient denied life saving treatment by her insurance company. The hashtag #ApproveLorelei went viral in the community and was tweeted out hundred of times by Oklahoma residents. This event compelled the insurance company to reverse their decision within 24 hours.
Recently, Facebook announced plans to possibly integrate the hashtag into its social universe. Facebook already allows users to tag themselves with people at specific places, but public posts aren’t currently indexed by keyword the way the hashtag does. Hashtags could even be searchable with Graph Search.
Brands are starting to take hashtags more seriously and integrate them into their social media strategy. More businesses need to get on board. In the study by RadiumOne, 43% of respondents use hashtags to search/follow categories and brands of personal interest. During the Super Bowl, Hyundai implemented a hashtag campaign to drive social media traffic to a video advertisement. Of those visitors, 70% of the consumers that clicked on the ad viewed the full video.
To be effective, hashtags have to simply reflect your existing branding. They have to be easily memorable and integrated into marketing material. People need to know the specific phrasing to include in a post. If the hashtag isn’t phrased or spelled correctly, it won’t be added to the larger conversation. Use your hashtag as an opportunity to make statement or bring some appropriate levity to a campaign or an event. Allow your supporters or customers to spread your messages to all of their followers.