Today, hashtags seem like any other basic part of communication on social media. They are extremely useful in searching and trending topics on Twitter, Instagram, and most recently Facebook. However, there was a time when this simple idea was revolutionary in so many ways. Not only did people begin using them in countless, enthusiastic ways, there was also a point where posts were made up completely of hashtags. Frustrations bubbled to the surface in 2013 when people began actually saying the words “hashtag ________ “ in normal conversations. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake even made a parody video to make fun of the new trend. While hashtags definitely spiraled out of control for a while, over the past few years they have seemed to settle into their natural place online. Here I will highlight what I have noticed to be some of the most prominent uses of hashtags throughout social media and how their uses are changing today.
Without the use of hashtags, we would never be made aware of the countless things that are celebrated on an annual basis, no matter how trivial. While some celebrations were generally popular to begin with, such as holidays, change of season days, and major sporting events, I would be willing to bet that most people were not aware that August 12th is National Middle Child Day. On any given day, there are 3 to 10 things we like to dedicate the day to recognizing. Today, April 15th, is a good example of a combination of popular and random recognitions. Most people in the U.S. realize that typically April 15th is tax day. However, how many of you knew that today is also National Take a Wild Guess Day, National Titanic Remembrance Day, National Rubber Eraser Day, and National Glazed Spiral Ham Day? If you did happen to know about one of these, I’m guessing a hashtag on one of your social media accounts had something to do with it. While I personally find most of these hashtags to be ridiculous, I confess that I did post a photo last week for #NationalSiblingsDay.
Creating a wedding hashtag is no easy task! It is expected to be one of a kind, witty, and generally descriptive of the couple’s personality. Combining all of these elements into just a few words or a short phrase was proven to be so difficult that there are free wedding hashtag generators and even some sites that charge for different wedding hashtag packages. When my best friend got married 3 years ago, creating the perfect hashtag became one of the top priorities for the bridal party. We came up with three options and voted for the best before the bridal shower, because that would be the first occasion it would be used. Then, between the time of the shower and the actual wedding, another couple began using the same hashtag on Instagram which sparked a bit of a hashtag challenge. We made it our mission to make sure that our photos were better and got more likes than those of the other “hashtag thieves”. While this all seems insane in hindsight, we all took it pretty seriously at the time. The good news is, wedding hashtags may officially be a thing of the past. According to some of the top wedding planners, this trend may officially come to an end in 2018. This is attributed to a combination of Instagram’s changing algorithm making it more difficult to find photos based only on hashtags and on today’s general trend away from over-sharing.
Tonight Show Weekly Segment
Jimmy Fallon has fully embraced the use of hashtags in a weekly segment of The Tonight Show. Every Wednesday he creates a new hashtag and announces it on his show and posts it on his Twitter page asking people to respond according to the topic. The best tweets are then read on Friday shows. Many of these hashtags become top trending topics in the hours after each announcement. Some examples are #WorstLieIEverTold, #IGotBusted, and #HowIGotFired. Needless to say, the responses he gets from fans and viewers are hilarious.
While these common uses of hashtags are entertaining and seemingly harmless, Facebook and LinkedIn have recently made headlines regarding their policies on their members’ use of hashtags.
Just last week Facebook announced that it began cracking down on the use of drug-related hashtags on Instagram such as #fentanyl, #oxycontin, and #opiods. This move is in effort to stop users from conducting drug deals through the social media platform. An Instagram spokesperson said “community guidelines make it clear that buying or selling prescription drugs isn’t allowed on Instagram and we have zero tolerance when it comes to content that puts the safety of our community at risk.” This news has stayed relatively low on the Facebook-radar as the Zuckerberg hearing has dominated the headlines over the past week.
In a completely different application, LinkedIn also recently made news regarding the use of hashtags. While this platform has not naturally adopted hash-tagging the way that Twitter and Instagram have, LinkedIn is now requiring the use of hashtags in posts from personal accounts. The company says this is part of a test program to determine whether this will “help members discover and join relevant conversations.” So far, this experiment has not been well-received as many users have responded that LinkedIn has crossed a line by requiring hashtags in order to create a post.
With the ever-changing trends and uses of social media, I wonder how long hashtags will remain meaningful.