One of the most widely used tools on social media, the hash (#) first appeared on the good old telephone before it took over twitter and eventually all communication on the internet. It has also negatively impacted people and products and thus one must be aware of the right ways to use it.
In the 14th century, libra, a unit of weight in ancient Roman language, was started being abbreviated to lb with a ‘title’ or stroke (-) put across it to show it was a contraction. Gradually, the way it was written changed and it took the form of (#).
In the 1950s, when Bell Labs introduced the Dual tone telephone that used buttons instead of a dial, it had two extra buttons on its keypad. By 1968, while the one extra button was dedicated to (*) the other one was given to the (#), both of which were now functional symbols used to accommodate various data services and customer-controlled calling features.
In past, the hashtag also had other names such as the pound, tic-tac-toe, pig-pen, and waffle. It is also called octothorpe in which octo represents the eight points in # and thorpe is derived from Jim Thorpe- the first Native American to win gold at the Olympics.
It’s been about 11 years now that the ‘hashtag’ started floating around on the internet. Now a tool that connects people and their products across social media platforms, the hash (#) was first used for tagging on twitter in 2007.
Hash-tagging was invented by Chris Messina, who was the 1186th user on Twitter; and since its first use, the (#) has come a long way.
Messina invented (#) as a substitute for web forums and following his foresight of the complexities the web pages could bring users in an era of mobile phones. The first iPhone had just come out a few months ago.
Today the hashtag is used by companies, newsmen, bloggers, and anyone on social media trying to engage with people or even spread a word.
Hash-tagging at play
“Hashtags are a good way to reach a wider audience on various platforms like Twitter and Instagram. The key, however, is to use selective hashtags that have an impact. This impact of the various hashtags used should also be monitored and optimised over time. Simply using them won’t necessarily help. Moreover, on Twitter it is said to reduce readability, so one does need to be selective with their usage,” says Priyanka Dalal, a digital growth marketer at www.priyankadalal.com.
People and products often use hash-tagging to share their content, and in some cases to remain in highlight. However, this quest for the limelight has made many see some dark days and this is when comes in Dalal’s idea of “selective usage”.
When CottonWorld, a Mumbai headquartered brand started using the hashtag #OnlineAzadi, it trended for more than 15 hours and up till the point the apex court of India, the Supreme Court quashed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act on them. ‘Online Azadi’ literally is online freedom, which clearly does not have any link with natural clothing.
Hashtags also backfire or simply do not work when they are hijacked.
When a watch brand, Maxima, started hijacking trending hashtags, it did so rather thoughtlessly. Every tweet on its profile included at least one trending topic of that day that would be unrelated to the watch brand. To hijack a hashtag as part of one’s strategy may work, but only if it is done logically. Hashtags like”#TheFrootiLife, #maxima,” are bound to get some negative attention.
In some cases hashtag hijacking has also negatively backfired.
When the New York police department started using #MyNYPD and invited the public to post pictures of themselves with police officers, it landed up receiving pictures depicting police brutality instead.
Fast food giant McDonalds too has its own hashtag accident. It started a hashtag #McDStories that attained some negative response. Around 1,500 stories were published by users claiming food poisoning, bad employees and other complaints.