Jan 8, 2013


Even if you're the most casual social media user in the world, chances are you've seen one of these in your Facebook feed, your Twitter timeline, a YouTube comment or even an email or text message:


So what in the world is it? Why are people mashing together words and hiding them behind these little pound signs?

Well first of all, the pound signs are called hash tags. They were popularized first in Twitter as a way to tag and categorize specific Tweets.

Hash tags are also used to join or monitor a conversation about a specific subject. Have you ever seen a TV show with a little hashtag in the corner? Or a movie trailer? Or a commercial? That is the work of a corporate social media department. They're telling you that if you would like to talk about this show on Twitter, then this is the hash tag you should use. 

Think of it this way: Have you ever read or written a blog post? If so, have you ever noticed or used the tags at the beginning or the end of the post? Authors use tags to put blog posts into specific categories. Like "Vacation" or "The Kids" or "My opinion". That concept has been brought to Twitter in the form of hash tags.

The Bachelor, for example, puts #TheBachelor on the corner of the TV screen. Why? Because they know millions of people watch that dumb show with their phones glued to their hands, and they're all just a second or two away from Tweeting. And when you do, they want you using that hash tag. So when the guy on The Bachelor picks the girl with one arm, the folks at The Bachelor would like to see something like this: "Baaaah! I'm so glad Sean picked the girl with one arm! #TheBachelor"

(By the way, ABC is able to see millions of viewers' reactions to The Bachelor because they successfully use and promote hash tags. I'm guessing they appreciate the window into so many viewers' minds.)

There is no regulation when it comes to hash tags, nor is there a list of approved hash tags. People use them as they please. The most popular and effective hash tags are publicized by people or companies with a big reach (like ABC for example. Or ESPN. Or Apple. Or Miley Cyrus. Or Shaquille O'Neal.).

Hash tags are linked together. That means you can click on a hash tag and instantly see everyone who is using that same tag. For example, if you tweet and use the hash tag #BYU, one of your followers will see that Tweet and have the ability to click on that tag and see everyone who is using the same #BYU hash tag.

The broader the term, the more Tweeters you're likely to see. So while there might be thousands of people using the hash tag #BYU at any given time, there might only be one or two who might use the hash tag #Adamisthecoolest (depending on whether or not my mom is online).

Take this Tweet for example:

This is something I wrote in reference to the National Championship last night. I used the hash tag "MountainsToClimb" to put my Tweet into a specific category. A category I just happened to make up at the moment I wrote the Tweet. So now you can click on that hashtag and see everyone else who has written a Tweet and has used that hashtag.

Likely, there won't be many.

Which brings up another point: Hash tags have become such a mainstay, that people are now using them not only to tag, but communicate. In a passive-aggressive kind of way. So when I use the hashtag #Mountainstoclimb, I'm not necessarily trying to connect with everyone using that same hash tag. Rather, I'm just making a passive comment about what it's like to be a BYU fan.

That's why you're starting to see hash tags bleed over into other forms of communication. Emails, Facebook statuses, texts, etc.

So try it out! Write a tweet right now and use a hash tag. And then look through your timeline, find a hash tag and click on it. See what other people are saying about that thing. If you find someone you think you might like to follow as a result, do it!

Use hash tags to join conversations, find people you might want to follow and brand yourself.

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