A Thing or Two About Hashtags

By now, people are already familiar with the # symbol on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ post and most commonly, Twitter. I have quickly learned that just because many people have seen hashtags, doesn’t automatically mean they know how to use them.

Before I begin my rant about how hashtags are being used incorrectly, let us understand their original purpose. Mashable, in their “The Beginner’s Guide to the Hashtag,” describes a hashtag as a, 

pound sign (or hash) [that] turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link. This allows you to organize content and track discussion topics based on those keywords. So, if you wanted to post about the Breaking Bad finale, you would include #BreakingBad in your tweet to join the conversation. Click on a hashtag to see all the posts that mention the subject in real time.

— Mashable

Hashtags are supposed to organize content and create meaningful conversations. Despite Mashable’s clear description, I have still seen at least three hashtag related problems.

1. The #L4L (Like for Like), #F4F (Follow for Follow), #Instamood Mentality

Individuals who use these, and other popular hashtags, do so just to get more likes and followers. There are even phone apps, such as TagsForLikes nowadays that can help you know which hashtags are the most popular.  

2. Hashtag “#Humor”

Another unfortunate trend is that some individuals simply add a hash symbol to long phrases, thinking that it will be funny. For example, after a long day at work someone might use hashtags like  #workisalmostoverfortheday or #isitfridayyet.  

3. #Just Don’t Know How

There is another smaller group of people that just doesn’t know how to use them properly. They often will put the hash symbol in random spots. For example, a post on Facebook may read, “#Happy Birthday to #my dear friend Jane.” Out of all the three hashtags problems mentioned, this one is the easiest to solve. With the proper amount of education, this group could understand the ins and outs of using hashtags in no time.

Do you overuse hashtags? What are some of the best hashtag practices that you and/or your company follow? Share your comments below. 

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Ethan Parry is 

... a Service Designer + UX Researcher at Hanzo. Parry frequently leads workshops around the world on topics such as Google Design Sprints, UX research, and service design. Parry also teaches UX and service design in several universities and bootcamps in Barcelona.