The Rise of the Humble #hashtag

Has the prevalence of this simple symbol on social media completely devalued the purpose of it?

Twitter may have pioneered the use of the hashtag to highlight keywords, make conversations more searchable, and #cause #general #annoyance. But with Facebook announcing that users can now also use this icon as an easier way to view discussion feeds, one has to wonder if hashtags really add value to content. The key may lie in the way we use them.


In 2009 the way in which the world used the #-sign changed forever. The intention and use of the hashtag is best explained by the Twitter Developers:

“Conversations collect around hashtags. If you want to start a conversation, introduce a hashtag. If you want to join a conversation already happening on Twitter, find the hashtag that’s being used.

Hashtags are commonly used at conferences, for television shows, and in discussion of major news events. Tweeting with the right hashtag is a great way to send your message not just to your followers, but to everyone who is tuned into that conversation.

Hashtags are most powerful when you use them judiciously. Including more than two in a Tweet is probably overkill, and you only need to tag the most important word that represents the theme of your Tweet.

… Sometimes, the best hashtag is the most obvious one.”


It has been argued that hashtags on Pinterest may be even more useful than on Twitter.

With 500 characters at your disposal to label a pin, you have a little more freedom, but should still limit the amount of tagged keywords that best describe the image you’re pinning. Make sure that the tagged words are broad, and cover topics that connect you to the largest audience possible.

It would appear as though adding tags when repinning an image will not pull them into Pinterest’s search engine database, making it even more important that you tag you pictures when you first pin them from the web. It will also help you find repins of your content, allowing you to connect with a greater audience.


Instagram’s blog shares some great tips on how to add tags* to your photos, and using it as a way to find new followers and share your photos with more people. A few things to keep in mind:

Be specific
Be relevant
Be observant
Numbers are allowed in hashtags, although special characters ($ or %, etc.) won’t work
You can only tag your own pictures

“After tagging the photo with relevant and specific tags, you may also find that people sharing photos similar to yours are using even more specialised tags that you hadn’t thought of originally.”

If you want to tag a photo you’ve already uploaded, just include your #hashtag in a comment on your photo

After you tag your photo with a hashtag, you’ll be able to tap on the hashtag to see a page that shows all photos users have uploaded with that hashtag.

*Private users’ tagged photos will not appear publicly on tag pages.


Hashtags help users organise and find stuff. When you successfully create a hashtag on Google+, the word will display within a box.

Unlike most of the other platforms, you can add hashtags later to your post via the Edit option.

Google+ also has a related hashtags feature:

Hashtags appearing at the top of a post are related to the post’s content. Clicking on a hashtag will let you explore related posts. Hashtags with grey colouring are those used by the author of the post while hashtags with blue colouring are added by Google based on the content of the post. Related hashtags help posts get discovered and build conversations around the content of that post.


The jury is still out on whether hashtags will offer any value for Facebook users, although it could be of great interest to investors.

People have been using hashtags on Facebook before, purely out of force of habit. Whether the tags now being hyperlinked to conversations will make a difference, remains to be seen.  Perhaps the platform that cried update is becoming desperate to reclaim a diminishing market share – adding hashtags four years after Twitter introduced it seems a little gimmicky. #justsaying #imo #thatisall

Other social media platforms that support hashtags include Tumblr, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Vine (to name a few).

What do you think – are hashtags just ugly wastes of character space, or do they actually serve a purpose? Will you use or search for hashtags on Facebook, or could you not be bothered either way?