As our team prepares to attend Intuit’s QuickBooks Connect, yet another valuable trade show on the B2BGateway yearly calendar, we get an email from the organizers, Intuit, encouraging our team to use the #qbconnect in all our correspondence and social media postings. As a marketer I am very au fait with the use of hashtags in our messaging, but Intuit’s recent show correspondence got me thinking. What exactly has the simple hashtag symbol # become and how has it influenced modern communications?
The hashtag or sometimes called the pound sign in North America was often used in information technology to highlight a special meaning. In 1970 the pound sign was used to denote immediate address mode in the assembly language of the PDP-11 when placed next to a symbol or a number.
The pound sign then appeared and was used within IRC networks (internet relay chat) to label groups and topics. Channels or topics that are available across an entire IRC network are prefixed with a hash symbol. The use of the pound sign in IRC inspired Chris Messina to propose a similar system to be used on Twitter to tag topics of interest on the microblogging network. He posted the first hashtag on Twitter in 2007:
How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina, (@factoryjoe), August 23, 2007
It was after a series of forest fires in San Diego in 2007 that the use of the hashtag in Twitter first, and then other social media platforms, became popular. According to Messina the intention behind the hashtag was to make it easy for users to search for content and find specific updates that are relevant without the technological knowledge to navigate the site. Therefore, the hashtag “was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages. In the world of the Super Information Highway, where all this happens in an internet minute, that Marketers, communication specialists and organizations with a specific message, needed a tool to be seen, heard or at least somewhat searchable over all the noise created. Hence the simple hashtag has become one of the 21st centuries most important communication or PR symbols. Simply by pacing the # symbol in place of a word or key phrase, the author can highlight the key points of his or her communication. Likewise the reader can use the # symbol for research and up to date feeds on any particular topic that may be of interest.
On social networking sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, etc., hashtags can be inserted anywhere within a sentence, either preceding it, following it as a postscript, or being included as a word within the sentence, example (sorry for shameless plug) – ‘B2BGateway #EDI for QuickBooks’.
The quantity of hashtags used in a post or tweet is just as important as the types of hashtags used. It is currently considered acceptable to tag a post once when contributing to a specific conversation. Two hashtags are considered acceptable when adding a location to the conversation. Three hashtags are seen by some as the ‘absolute maximum’, and any contribution exceeding this risks raising the ire of other users.
So, besides search-ability, what additional benefits does the hashtag offer the 21st century marketer and PR guru?
- Improve brand awareness by using hashtags related to service or product.
- Use trending hashtags where relevant to drive additional traffic to your site.
- Encourage interaction with customers, prospects and partners.
- Create a brand hashtag that is unique to your business and use as a signature tag.
- Unique hashtags are ideal for new campaign or product launches.