Hashtags - Where did they come from and why they're useful to your brand

You might have once known '#' as the pound symbol and number sign or even the base of your Xs and Os game, but this symbol has evolved to be an integral accessory for online communication. The simple function of a hashtag allows you to indicate what you are posting about or even where you are posting from, and yet these symbols have gone to shape brand identities, political campaigns and social justice movements.

Believe it or not, Twitter did not always have the hashtag option. Chris Messina, a former developer, is credited to have been the first to use the hashtag on Twitter in August 2007. He had leveraged his knowledge on how the symbol had been successfully used on the early days of the web to develop a detailed argument for using them.

On his mission to get Twitter to adopt hashtags, Messina also looked to Flickr tags for inspiration. When the California wildfires hit in October 2007, he saw an opportunity for the hashtag to be used. He picked up the popular Flickr tag, #sandiegofire and asked others to use it. He specifically asked his acquaintance, Nate Ritter, who was then blogging about the incident to incorporate the hashtag in his tweets.

This collaboration is what drove so many others to join the hashtag bandwagon. Ritter's tweets became so popular that other users started using hashtags to categorise relevant content.

The public's approval of hashtags was not enough, it took Twitter till July 2nd, 2009 to start hyperlinking hashtags in tweets to their search results. Since its launch in 2010, Instagram came with the hashtag feature. What made hashtags on Instagram even better is that they each came with their own RSS feed. Other social media platforms later followed suit with Facebook enabling hashtags in June 2013, and YouTube in June 2016.

What started off as a solution for grouping online content has become an indispensable tool for social media marketing. One of the reasons this is the case, is that hashtags increase your online visibility since they allow your content to be discoverable to anyone that shows interest in the hashtag. This consequently plays a big role in building your online following and finding new consumer prospects.

Hashtags similarly allow businesses to join relevant conversations that feed into their social media presence. Rather than jump onto every trending hashtag, businesses need to learn how to leverage hashtags for their own brand messaging. This means that brands should opt for starting the conversation rather than joining it. Hashtags can be utilised to be unique to a single brand while still being a reflection of its values.

Although hashtags are absolutely necessary for online content, brands need to take caution on how they use them. Too many hashtags may make your content look cluttered and at times even lose its appeal. Remember, the trick is to use hashtags that are only relevant to your brand's story.

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