The history of the hashtag: Growing your business online.

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Hashtags are a common sight, whether you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Linkedin to promote your business, they are everywhere! You’ll also have a good grasp on what hashtags are and how to use them; but have you ever wondered how this small symbol became such a large part of our modern-day lexicon? 

Let’s look at the history of the hashtag and how you can leverage its popularity to boost your own social media marketing.

The birth of the hashtag

The humble hash symbol (or pound symbol if you live ‘over the pond’)  made its first debut as a hashtag on the internet when it was used to designate channels of content in Internet Relay Chat or IRC.  

Developed in 1988, IRC was a network, enabling users to communicate around specific topics using channels to group different conversations together. 

 This grew to half a million users and the name ‘hashtag’ was born. It quickly became recognised as a convenient way to find and group content, in a place where multiple conversations were taking place.

Tweets, tweets everywhere…

Before the hashtag, wading through Twitter was akin to trying to swim in a pool of honey; messy, sticky and wondering if you would ever find what you were looking for. Then, along came Chris Messina who decided to merge the old with the new. In 2007, long-time IRC user and social technology expert Chris Messina, floated the idea of introducing hashtags to Twitter. Taking his inspiration from previous uses of the symbol on other networks, he pitched hashtags as a way to improve “contextualizationcontent filtering and exploratory serendipity within Twitter” 

Unlike the group features being used on other social media platforms, Messina dreamed of a method that didn’t require excessive management and admin work. Instead, he wanted something akin to an ‘eavesdropping experience’: a simple way to view and take part in conversations.

Messina also anticipated the re-use of hashtags for regular events and occasions, like annual conferences. He stated that “over time, as tags are used less frequently, other people can reuse them — no domain squatting!” and this is exactly how many event organisers use hashtags today!

And so Messina’s wonderful idea was approved, and hashtags were officially introduced into the Twittersphere. It wasn’t long before other platforms followed suit and the use of hashtags became common practice on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, and Pinterest too.

But how can I use hashtags?

Hashtags are an integral part of social media marketing, giving context to discussions and creating communities – but what does this mean for your business? It means you have a great way to target and personalise your marketing messages that may not have been available to you before. 

Hashtags let you reach your target audience by tapping into conversations, they help to raise awareness of your brand, and they can also boost your SEO efforts – what’s not to like?

Target your social media campaigns  

Hashtags are a great way to eavesdrop on the conversations taking place between your customers, prospects, and competitors on a level never seen before. 

Use them to join in with conversations, get a head start on your competitors and identify the values of your prospective customer base. 

Then, use those insights to create highly targeted marketing campaigns; just remember, with great power comes great responsibility (thanks uncle Ben) so don’t hijack hashtags. If it isn’t relevant and you don’t have anything to add to the conversation the hashtag probably isn’t right for your message. 

Extend your reach

Before social media marketing, other forms of advertising (printed adverts, radio ads or even billboards) relied on being seen by the many and appealing to the few. Now though, you can harness the power of the hashtag to join in with those conversations that relate directly to your brand, products or services: putting your business in the limelight with the right people. You may even discover new fans in areas you hadn’t considered as your posts get traction. 

To extend your reach using hashtags, look at trending topics and join in with the ones that relate to your business. If you operate in a niche sector you might find that there aren’t many that crop up but you can always join in with broader hashtags such as holiday trends (Christmas, Easter, School holidays etc) as long as you are adding value to the conversations.

Create a community

As any digital marketer will tell you, social media isn’t just another sales outlet where your business can preach endlessly about itself and its products. Some self-promotion works well, but if you go in for the hard-sell every time your followers will quickly lose all interest. 

The most successful businesses on social media focus on building a community around their brand that promotes their ethos and values without bombarding followers with sales messages. Incorporating a custom brand hashtag and using relevant additional hashtags will help you to join in discussions surrounding topics that your customers care about most.

The golden goose (or geese!) of hashtags

When you’re ready to use hashtags in your own social media marketing, you’ll be joining the likes of Coca Cola, KFC, and Domino’s – welcome to the thunderdome people!  

Domino’s Pizza UK recently set a precedent for optimal hashtag usage with its #LetsDoLunch campaign. To bag a discount on a Domino’s pizza, Twitter users simply needed to tweet using the hashtag and go instore to collect their bargain lunch. This caused a surge in the adoption of the hashtag and it was trending in no time. This is a great example of how using hashtags to promote products, offers and giveaways can really work for your business. 

Another creative use of the hashtag for a social media marketing campaign was Coca Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign. The hashtag accompanied the release of named bottles of Coca Cola, encouraging users to share pictures of themselves holding the bottles with their names on or to send them to family and friends. This helped promote the hashtag and created a massive amount of user-generated content: the social media equivalent of traditional recommendations and reviews. 

Finally, proof that hashtags can work for businesses and non-profits alike is the #IceBucketChallenge launched by the ALS Association in 2014. The use of the hashtag in this scenario helped turn the challenge into one of the most successful viral charity challenges ever – raising over $100m in a 30-day period. The use of the hashtag to promote the challenge meant that it spread across the internet, uniting people with different interests and social circles for a good cause. 

If you want to take your social media marketing to the next level, it’s time to make hashtags your best friend. Get in touch with Suki Marketing today for advice on how to make them work for your business.

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