Hashtags – can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em

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.

 

Celebrating everything!

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.

 

Weddings

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.

wedding hashtag.jpg

 

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.

JF Hashtags.png

 

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.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 8.40.30 PM

 

With the ever-changing trends and uses of social media, I wonder how long hashtags will remain meaningful.

7 comments

  1. Your title for this post was perfect. Sometimes hashtags can seem so annoying but most of us can’t say we’ve never used one either. I think my favorite use that you discussed was for celebrating things. I love reading the random things that are being celebrated on any given day. Some days they are more creative and better than others but its entertaining overall. I also do think Jimmy Fallon has done a great job of using hashtags and making it seem like a productive tool for his show. People have the funniest stories to share and its a great way to connect those funny stories with a comedian like Jimmy Fallon who can then share them with such a large audience. I’m a huge supporter of any creative way of bringing good comedy to the public. However, you briefly mentioned a point about how the trend of straying away from oversharing is affecting the use of hashtags for wedding pictures. I think this applies to more than just wedding hashtags and it would be an interesting cause and effect relationship to look into. With so many people making all their accounts very private, myself included, the use of a hashtag loses its purpose in terms of using it to relate to a specific topic and then search up that topic. It becomes just an add on to your caption or post with a meaning only related to your post and only relevant to those who can see it. I don’t think its a bad thing but its interesting to note how things change and shift. Lastly, I do have to comment on that LinkedIn requirement. I totally dislike this new requirement and I can see it annoying many users. Posts on LinkedIn are taken more seriously by users and typically more thought goes into them because they have to be more professional than other social media. Adding the pressure of coming up with a good enough hashtag to accompany that perfect post just seems like an unnecessary hassle. I don’t think the annoyance will be enough to cause any negative effect on LinkedIn overall but I just don’t hashtags are popular enough that everyone would want to use them and be able to come up with the right one every time. Maybe they know something we don’t though and it will be worth it in the long run. We’ll have to wait and see.

  2. I agree with @jennypenafiel11 that the LinkedIn hashtag requirement is annoying, and I also think it seems unprofessional. Maybe that is because the way I’ve always seen hashtags (despite the fact that I myself have used them) is the way Jimmy Fallon and JT overplay it in their parody video. Some people – particularly friends of mine that are Insta models or have an account they use for commercial purposes – use WAY too many hashtags. It’s not uncommon to see 10 or 20 hashtags at the end of the post. At some point I think you need to make a choice, because you are diluting the meaning too much. A picture is worth a thousand words: you don’t need to include all thousand of those words in your hashtags.

    However, despite the hate, I do find a unique form of communication via hashtags. Especially on a platform like Twitter, with character limits and limited attention span of users, being able to convey a greater message without using a full sentence can be very useful. That being said, there is an art.
    We shouldn’t think limited words necessarily makes us sound smarter (a prime example from The Office: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_K-L9uhsBLM) #firstWorldProblems

  3. I actually think the LinkedIn hashtag requirement (while annoying that its a requirement) really forces people to categorize their posts – and help engagement across unconnected networks. If you are looking for specific topics, searching by a hashtag actually makes it easier – very much like our #IS6621 posts!

    I think what needs to happen is a balance – stop using 40 hashtags on your Instagram and stop using hashtags as a subtext. Using them as a way to categorize and curate information could be really beneficial!

  4. Appreciated this article, and I have been thinking about hastags myself when it comes to my professional instragram account for filmmaking and photo. It seems like so many of the best brands and freelancers utilize hundreds of hastags to categorize their artwork and photo, but frankly, I feel absolutely ridiculous doing so. Perhaps it’s something I must embrace, because the organic follower growth is nothing compared to the people I could tap if I start employing these hastags.

  5. Great post, Maria. I have never used hashtags too much, but I was always impressed by people who could come up with clever and funny hashtags. I do agree that recently people tend to use less hashtags which I am glad about since it makes posts less cluttered. And if they do use hashtags to tag their post, they put them in the comment section. I had no idea that LinkedIn requires you to use hashtags now. My first thought was that it is annoying. However, I do agree with Colleen that it does require you to categorize your post and may help people find things more efficiently. It will be interesting to see if the users will adopt to it or the backlash will continue.

  6. Nice post. Without hashtags, certainly Twitter would be a far less useful tool for #IS6621

  7. I think that the best use for the hashtag is for the trending page on twitter. I think that twitter did a nice job with this feature on their homepage. I especially like how you can filter different geographical locations and see what is trending either globally, nationally, or even in your own city. In the sports world, the use of the hashtag is everywhere. An example is in Philly, the 76ers have coined two pretty famous hashtags that they have used countlessly over the past few seasons. One of them is #TrustTheProcess and the other is #RaiseTheCat. Both have a lot of meaning behind them that define the organization. I think that hashtags also make it a lot easier to search for things on twitter. In the case of LinkedIn, I have never posted anything on the website so I am unfamiliar with the new requirement to use the hashtag. I think that it is a pretty good move because before you are limited to just the posts that your connections either post or like. The addition of the hashtag allows for a user to search for information in a more organized way. The only problem with the required hashtags I think is that LinkedIn is obviously a more professional career site, and the use of hashtags may seem childish and unprofessional (like what @1bobbystroup touched on above). I could see LinkedIn receiving backlash for this, but I guess only time will tell.

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