Have you noticed how Hashtags have moved from obscure symbology to mainstream? Check out Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, with a clip on hash tagging just about everything.

Hashtags began with Twitter, as a way for users to label tweets with a particular theme, group or topic. In 2009, Twitter updated its system to make hashtags clickable, returning a search for all tweets containing the term. Today, the hashtag has evolved into far more than a labeling system for Twitter as it now connects conversations on other social media platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.

Traditional Uses of Hashtags

Companies with strong social media programs use hashtags in a variety of ways to help categorize their content within social media channels. Some of the more obvious ways include:

  • “Bolding” or emphasize a topic in a Tweet or post
  • Making an event searchable
  • Representing core ideas and concepts for your organization
  • Using keywords identified for your buyer personas

The Evolving Hashtag: WTF?

Today, hashtags have evolved. They have become part of the language. Not just the term hashtags, but the hashtags themselves. They have become a new form of punctuation that can enhance or transform the meaning of a phrase or thought. They are used to add extra layers of meaning to their messages. They might convey irony or sarcasm, suggest emotion or mood, pose an answer to an implied or rhetorical question, or even directly contradict the actual tweet or post. The effect can be humorous, frivolous, provocative, informative, or mysterious.

Marketers and Hashtags

Hashtags provide a shorthand punch to brief communications that has little or nothing to do with grouping tweets. And that has made social media marketing a little more challenging. Using hashtags incorrectly can make your brand seem dated and out of place.

Before you create or use a hashtag, you should always check first to see how much activity the hashtag generates, the sorts of content people share, and how well that content is received. A hashtags belongs to the community, even if you created it yourself. You can’t censor or control how others will use it, so be sensitive to situations that could fuel a hashtag backlash.

As always, remember that not every conversation welcomes marketers. Resist the temptation to insert yourself too heavily into personal conversations. Avoid spamming hashtag followers with offers or self-serving content. Posting to a single group too often or repetitively can turn a community against you. It’s no more appropriate than it is anywhere else. Genuine interaction still matters.

Hashtags Forever!

Used well, hashtags can be powerful marketing tools. But these tools come with cautions and must be treated with respect, care, and plenty of consideration. They can add meaning, delight, emphasis, and power to a marketing idea. But they can also backfire and generate criticism and ill-will. It’s hard to say whether they will translate to verbal communications as facetiously suggested by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.