The Power of Hashtags

Twitter gave new meaning to the lowly pound sign, enabling people across the globe to engage in conversations.
Twitter gave new meaning to the pound sign, enabling people across the globe to easily engage in conversations on the topic of their choice.

We use the pound or number sign (#) for numbers, on phones, or when we play tic, tac, toe. But the pound sign was not considered an important symbol in our lives until Chris Messina decided to use it as a way for groups of people to discuss topics without getting lost in the chaos of messages. That was in 2007. Soon after, Twitter adopted the hashtag system and turned the pound sign into a code so that any word prepended with a hash automatically becomes hyperlinked1. The newly coined “hashtag” quickly caught on and has since been implemented by Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest and many other social networks. You can even Google a hashtag to see posts across different social media platforms.

A hashtag can be created by anyone, and there is really no incorrect hashtag. Yet it is common sense to use previously used tags if we want our message or photo be read or viewed by a more diverse audience. You can search for hashtags that are already being used on sites like Hashtags.org. Or just note the hashtags that people use for their messages and photos.

But remember, do not over-do it with hashtags! Sometimes, I see a photo on Instagram that has over ten different hashtags. This makes the person look desperate for followers! Worse, some of the hashtags have nothing to do with the message of the photo or the location it was taken. This is misleading and simply not good practice. And if the hashtag is inaccurate, the photo, blog post or tweet will not even be seen or read by your targeted audience. So next time you are going to hashtag your message, think of a good key term that relates to your target community or subject, and soon you will connect with people of similar thoughts and ideas locally and even globally.

Whether they’re called tags, hashtags, or subject headings, they all work the same way to help us find what we’re looking for.

Now all this reminds me of coming up with the right keywords when doing research. We may have some keywords in mind, but when searching with them in a library database to no avail, a lot of us get frustrated and change topics instead of trying out different key words.  But just as it pays to find a particular hashtag on a specific topic, it is recommended to first check out an encyclopedia, a textbook or even Wikipedia to see what other synonyms, keywords, subject headings or controlled vocabulary can be used for that topic. And as we get connected to like-minded individuals through finding and using proper hashtags, identifying the right search terms will help us find more relevant articles and books on our chosen topic.

Check out the library’s Instagram , Twitter and Blog to see how librarians use popular hashtags for our tweets, photos and blog posts. Also, for more information on Social media, take a look at some of our books here at Touro Libraries:

McFedries, P. (2009). Twitter Tips, Tricks, and Tweets. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing.

Coles, L. (2014). Marketing with Social Media: 10 Easy Steps to Success for Business.  Queensland, AU: J. Wiley & Sons.

Newton, L. (2013). Facebook nation: total information awareness.  New York, NY: Springer.

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