Hashtags: what they are and how to use them in the right way

If you are a social media-addicted you know them very well, but if you are a beginner maybe it’s better to clarify a bit. I’m talking of hashtags, namely linkable keywords preceded by a hash mark (#).

To some of you they may seem unnecessary or unpleasant, but hashtags are by now an integral part of online communication, therefore it is useful to understand what they are for and how to use them in the correct way.

The spread of hashtags (coming from “hash” and “tag”) has started thanks to Twitter, but has also spread to other social networks (Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and lastly Facebook too).

In Twitter the hashtag turns each word or group of words into a traceable link. In this way it is possible to organize and index content as well as take part into discussions referring to a specific subject or event. For instance, if you want to write a tweet in reference to the final episode of Breaking Bad, you’ll add #BreakingBad in your tweet to join the conversation about this series. Clicking on the hashtag #BreakingBad you’ll see all the posts mentioning that subject in real time.

The first one who had the idea of hashtags was Chris Messina, in 2007, a developer who, in a tweet, suggested to assemble discussion topics using the symbol of the hashtag. Twitter initially refused, but in October 2007 some American journalists put into practice Messina’s suggestion and started using #SanDiegoFire to post update tweets about some fires that were ravaging the woods around San Diego. Soon after hashtags became an integral part of Twitter, both for the circulation of politic events (like in Iran or Egypt) and trivial matters (like commenting TV programs).

What are the rules to know to use hashtags correctly?

  • Skip spaces: if your hashtag includes more than one word assemble them; if you want to distinguish the different words you can write the first letter of each word in capital letters. Using capital letters anyway doesn’t alter search results, that is the research of #BreakingBad gives the same results of #breakingbad;
  • You can put them anywhere you want, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of your tweet. Just put the # before the word (with no spaces);
  • Don’t exaggerate:it’s advisable to use at the most 2-3 hashtags per tweet and possibly relevant, specific hashtags, without repeating them;
  • Numbers also apply:you can use a hashtag containing numbers (for instance #holidays2016) with no problems. But don’t insert commas, question or exclamation marks, commas or any special character;
  • Don’t get confused with @, that, in Twitter, has a totally different meaning. If you use a @ before a user name in Twitter, you’ll send a direct tweet to this user (even if you don’t know him/her or you aren’t one of his/her followers).
  • You can create any hashtag you wish: there’s no list of pre-established hashtags, so you can create new hashtags yourself. Just put a # before a series of words and it’s done, you have created a hashtag.
  • Never writea tweet only containing hashtags: it’s confusing and doesn’t say anything. If you just tweet “#happy,” you’re communicating anything to your followers. The same if you write “#BreakingBad is #fantastic.

Twitter, as the cradle of the modern use of hashtags, is the platform where the use of hashtags is more adaptable. In the left bar, in “Trends“, it is possible to find out which are the most used hashtags currently. To look for a specific hashtag you just have to insert the word in the search box (marked by a lens). If you want to know which are the trendiest hashtags on social media you can also have a look at Hashtags.org.

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