It was once called the "pound sign" and was used to irritate people who called a company and got a recording instead of a human.
OK, so it still has that function. But what is now known as the hashtag has taken on a whole new meaning — and in my opinion, it has gotten out of hand.
Being the social media geek I am, I looked up the history of the hashtag (not the symbol, the phrase use). Here's what I found:
- In 2007, Twitter user (and innovator) Chris Messina used a hashtag in a tweet for the first time and proposed that others use it to group conversations together.
- Hashtags used to be exclusive to Twitter but are now popular on Instagram and (exasperatingly) on Facebook.
- Advertisers have now taken over the hashtag to get customers to start conversations about brands or events (#grammys, anyone?).
So. It's obvious that the hashtag isn't going away, and it can be incredibly useful if you use it in a functional, tasteful way. Here are my tips to avoid annoying your friends with excessive hashtag use.
- Use a maximum of two hashtags per post. On Twitter, you're limited to 140 characters, so using only two hashtags makes total sense for the sake of brevity. But even on Facebook, where you have a much bigger canvas to share your thoughts, two hashtags is plenty. Any more than that, and you risk your posts looking like the ecard above.
- Keep your hashtags as brief as possible. People are bombarded with posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram every day, and the last thing they want to do is try to decipher #mythirteenyearoldhatesmyparentingstyle from their feed. It's really hard to read, it's long and it doesn't add much to the conversation. Which brings me to my third point —
- Make your hashtags relevant. I'm not suggesting you use hashtags only for their traditional use, which is joining a conversation or starting a group. A New York Times writer recently talked about the expanding role of the hashtag to communicate irony or introspection. In other words, #hopethisisadrill (which is what my co-worker used on Instagram when an ambulance and two cop cars pulled up to our building a few days ago) can be funny and make your message even more memorable. But three long hashtags about how your adorable new puppy is are a bit excessive and don't make your post more interesting.
- Capitalize the first letter of each new phrase in your hashtag if it's longer than three words. I know some people will disagree with this, since the lowercase phrases make your posts seem hip and reminiscent of an e.e. cummings poem (debate still rages about whether his name should even be capitalized, since none of his writing was). But trust me, your friends and readers will thank you because it makes your hashtags so much easier to read.
- Limit your hashtags on Facebook. Hashtags serve an actual purpose on Twitter and Instagram; i.e., they allow you to search for posts or pictures in a certain group. You can't search by hashtag on Facebook, which means the phrases you share don't really have value (at least in the traditional sense). However, this blog suggests that using a one-word hashtag, like #blogging, at the end of a long Facebook post can clarify what it's about for people who don't want to read it — which means they might just pay attention if the hashtag topic interests them. Long hashtags (and multiple hashtags in the same post) can be distracting.
Do you use hashtags? What are your pet peeves?