• Michael Weeding

It is you who has given the humble hashtag the complex it has today! #shameonyou

The humble hashtag is not new, it has been around for over 6 years now, it is either loved or loathed. So why the complex? To be fair the hashtag has suffered only because it has been trying to be too many things, and it is not the hashtags fault. It is the way it has been used by brands and consumers that has caused it to have the complex that it does today.

The hashtag has humble beginnings, first appearing in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to label groups and topics, it was made popular by Chris Messina when he proposed to use this within Twitter. In 2009 Twitter began to hyperlink all hashtags as well as introduced Trending Topics.

It was about this time the first abuse of the hashtag appeared, in an attempt to generate a trending topic consumers started to make hashtags a common place in each and every sentence for every word in every post. For many the use of the hashtag has not moved far beyond this and is the very reason Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake ridiculed the current obsession with creating new hashtags for everything.

It is not just consumers, brands have a played an instrumental role in creating confusion around the hashtag. The past is littered with poorly executed hashtags that have only become popular because of what they did not mean to promote. A common question that is asked across the Internet is who was responsible for creating the hashtag to promote Susan Boyle’s album launch #susanalbumparty.

There are also times that the hashtags that have been used by a PR team that seems to be disconnected to the organisation that they represent, who can forget Qantas launching the hashtag #QantasLuxury at a time when thousands of passengers were stranded overseas when the airline stopped flying.

But please do not be disillusioned, there is light at the end of tunnel, the humble hashtag is starting to come of age. There are many more great examples of the hashtag being used than there ever has been in the past. As one example how about the Domino’s Pizza #letsdolunch where the price of the Pepperoni Passion Pizza was cut by one pence every time someone tweeted the hashtag during the hours of 9am-11am. The Pizza was offered at that price during lunchtime that day and who does not like a cheap pizza?

There are many lessons to be learnt from quick thinking organisations that leverage trending Twitter hashtags. In the most recent Presidential campaign the Obama administration jumped onto consumer’s general fascination with absurd words or phrases. In one example when the word “malarkey” started to trend after it was used by Vice President Joe Biden during a debate they purchased the trending Twitter hashtag ensuring their message was seen by all who searched for this hashtag.

So when is a Hashtag valuable? When it provides real value to consumers. The challenge now is for anyone who uses the humble hashtag is to treat it with the respect that it deserves. It has an important role in connecting the enormous amounts of content that we generated around a single topic in any one day. For that alone we all should be truly thankful for its existence.

While the past has been cruel, the future can be kind for the hashtag. But take note, it is you who hold its future in your hands, just don’t stuff it up.

#Hashtag #Twitter

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