Hashtag Hell (or, How I Learned to Love the Pound Sign)

So, I hear a lot of people asking, “What is the point of a hashtag?” and saying “They’re so stupid! I hate them!” That’s because most people use them incorrectly. You *can* use a hashtag of #ThisIsTheLamestThingEverAndItSucksMoreThanBroccoliSoup … but no one will ever see it except you and your handful of twitter followers/facebook friends/instagram addicts, depending on where you deploy your tag.


Hashtags actually serve a very useful purpose. Think of them as a sort of index for your post. For those of you who have no idea what an index is (read: the under-20 crowd who barely know what a book is), think of your old text books or instruction books. In the back, you have an alphabetical index of key words that are very specific to a functionality or a task. If I’m looking at an HTML book, and I want to know all about “classes,” I can search the index, find “classes,” and it will give me a list of pages where you will find useful information. It’s the same with hashtags. You tag key words that you want to use to help others find your post on whatever social media platform you’re using. Twitter has been great for using hashtags for years and years. Instagram, a little less so, but definitely getting up to speed. Facebook … yah. A work in progress, and we’ll leave it at that.


In your post/tweet/pic, you have a point you’re trying to get across. You specifically mentioned something. For example, let’s say that I just took a picture of Old Faithful in Yellowstone. My caption reads, “Hey, check it out–it really *does* go off every 75 minutes or so!” My hashtags, IF I want them to be useful, would be something along the lines of #OldFaithful #Yellowstone #geysers #awesome (because let’s face it … OF is freakin’ insanely cool, as are most other geysers). The first two are specific to Old Faithful. They say where you’ve been specifically. The 3rd is a tad more generic, but it’s still specific to OF because it is a geyser, and Yellowstone houses the largest concentration of geysers in the world. The 4th shows your feelings (not a necessity, but sometimes a nicety), and anyone looking for something #awesome is going to find your picture. Eventually. Probably. I mean, I’m sure a lot of pictures or posts are tagged as “awesome” because most people view their vacation pics as such. “Awesome,” though, is subjective. YOU believe it’s awesome. Others may agree; some may think, “Really? Water blowing out of the ground is ‘awesome’? Whatever …”


Now … some people like to use hashtags as a way to rib their friends/followers. That’s definitely one way of using them. The odds of it being useful in a search are pretty close to zero, but it can be done. My friends and I do it all the time. Doesn’t mean we *want* people to find it; we’re just using them as a short-handed form of teasing. #Idiot, #LMGTFY … stuff like that. It’s pretty fun.


Another thing to consider when using hashtags is the use of capitalization. In conventional writing, you typically capitalize the first word of a sentence, then the rest of the sentence is lower-case (except for the appropriate pronouns and proper nouns). However, with hashtags, to make them more readable, the smart tagger capitalizes the first letter of EVERY word–regardless of whether it’s a small word, big word, proper noun, gerund, objective prounoun … doesn’t matter.


This concludes my primer for tagging. I’m sure there’s a lot I’m leaving out, but these are just the things I’ve observed since using hashtags. They have their place, and they’re definitely a great tool … IF you know what you’re doing with them.

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