Twitter bird with hashtag

Hashtags with everything?

— Gareth Davies 

For those who know me know that I love a good hashtag. Give me the chance and I’ll try and slip one in at every opportunity #knowwhatImean?

As a digital practitioner I love the fact that hashtags have become part of modern culture and everyday language as this video quite humorously portrays. But as with most trends and behaviours in social media there’s a lot of people doing it right but a lot more people doing it wrong.

Looking back at the origin of the use of the hashtag in social media, the rise of Twitter and the tsunami of content the platform produces every second, it was the perfect way to identify and categorise disparate conversations and posts into a bigger, more inclusive conversation. Even as the Wikipedia definition of a hashtag states that it is “a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter to identify messages on a specific topic”. It’s use is so simple and so effective it’s no wonder that it quickly spread out of Twitter and into Facebook and Instagram and many other platforms.

For brands, organisations and even individuals, there’s no denying that the use of the hashtag is a great way to have your content or point of view become part of bigger discussions already taking place and to ensure it is discoverable by those who don’t necessarily follow your social profile or feed. In essence it opens up your feed to the bigger social media world and invites people in to engage with you.

From an insight and measurement point of view the use of hashtags has also made my life easier. Rather than search for keywords and phrases relevant to my clients’ campaigns in the hundreds and thousands of conversations taking place at any given time, hashtags have allowed us to quickly categorise and evaluate conversation volumes and ultimately customer engagement.

But to be honest it’s now all getting out of control and is beginning to have an impact on the art of conversation in the social media age. The fact that it has transcended social media to become a cultural norm is great but it feels that whilst there is a lot of excitement around the use of hashtags, there seems at times to be little thought.

Whilst I don’t watch much TV, when I do I can’t seem to escape a commercial break where numerous commercials end with references to a hashtag. This of course plays to the fact that we no longer consume content through just one screen. More and more of us are engaging with social media around our TV viewing habits (or we are simultaneously watching TV and casually browsing the web). Yet when I see a great hashtag being used in TV I always feel that there is no great call to action to go with it other than ‘here’s a clever hashtag to accompany our TV campaign’. More often than not I jump into Twitter to see what engagement is taking place around the advert only to find Tweet after tweet of users posting commentary on how much they love the advert in question – and that is about as far as they go with the use of the hashtag.

So this is my call out to brands. I’ve had enough of your random hashtag usage. Remind yourselves ourselves how great it can be when we you ignite interesting, fresh and new conversations around your content that take the discussion much further than casual appreciation for what you have done. Think carefully about creating not just a smart hashtag but a call to action that goes with it that can steer and inspire audiences to talk and to bring their story into yours.