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Hashtags: beyond labelling

Richard Bell

The widespread use of hashtags came about as a result of Twitter’s ascension on the social media scene, which led to the need to find some order in its short, disjointed verbal outpourings.

A small group of people began using the hashtag symbol to indicate the keyword in their tweets, which acted as a sort of labelling system so that  conversations could be categorised. Twitter caught on to the idea and soon all hashtags were made clickable, so that results on that term could be returned instantly.

The hashtag is now an integral part of the microblogging site’s system, with their use spreading across to other social media platforms as well, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

However, hashtags are continuing to evolve and are no longer just considered a convenient way to make your content more findable. The humble hashtag can add character to a dry piece of text, and can also convey irony, humour and wit, becoming a literary version of an emoticon. A well-worded hashtag can even engage the different types of reader, elevate content, and improve its visibility.

A word of caution, however, as the hashtag has been known to produce some howlers when it comes to mashing words together.

You might remember a few years ago following the death of former PM Margaret Thatcher that the hashtag “nowthatchersdead” was trending. Unfortunately, the Iron Lady is less well known in the states than legendary pop singer Cher, and Twitter lit up with confused grief.

There is also the PR gaffe made by Susan Boyle’s promotion team, which tweeted news of her album launch party under the hashtag “susanalbumparty”.

As we have seen, it’s always worth getting a fresh pair of eyes to glance over your intended hashtags. However, how many should you use? Research suggests that any more than two or three per post or tweet is likely to result in reduced interaction, so be discerning with your choices.

Richard has a First in English Literature and Creative Writing, and has experience writing fiction and short stories (which he has published both online and in magazines).

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