What Does "Hashtag" Mean & How Do You Use One?

How to Use Hashtags Correctly in Your Online Posts

Image of a cell phone showing a hashtag symbol.
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If you're new to social media, you might not know what the all-important hashtag is. Here, you can find out what "hashtag" means and how you use these very important tools to help people find your posts. Additionally, you can use them to find posts that you are interested in reading.

What Does Hashtag Mean, Anyway?

According to Merriam-Weber, the definition of a hashtag is:

a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text

So what does that mean?

Hashtags are words or multi-word phrases that categorize content and track topics on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Hashtags are preceded by the # symbol, like #picoftheday or #sweepstakes.

People can use hashtags to search for posts with a specific theme. Using them helps people find posts and tweets that interest them. And if you want your own posts to be found, adding a hashtag or two will help you find your audience.

How to Use Hashtags in Your Posts

Add hashtags to your tweets, pins, or posts by using the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase that defines the tweet's topic. 

Don't use any spaces in your hashtag. If you want to use more than one word, simply run them together. If it's hard to read the meaning of the phrase without spaces, you can capitalize each of the words. #throwbackthursday and #ElectionNight are examples of popular multi-word hashtags.

How do you decide which hashtags to use? You can come up with a phrase that you find appropriate or you can use hashtags that you've seen other people put in their posts. If you're looking to attract readers, you can use a site like Hashtags.org to find hashtags that are currently popular (trending) on social media.

Hashtags don't have to be about a topic; they can also encapsulate a mood in your post. For example, if you post about winning a prize, you could use the hashtags #soexcited and #lovewinning! Hashtags can also be sarcastic, ironic, or funny.

You can include more than one hashtag in your Tweet, but beware of using too many. Once you get above three hashtags, or when your post has more hashtags than text in it, your post begins to look spammy, which may turn off your readers.

You can insert a hashtag at the beginning, middle, or end of your post. Here's an example of a Tweet with a hashtag in the body of the message:

Confused by #Twitter slang? "Twitter Terms for Beginners" explains all of the jargon you need to know: 

In the example above, "#Twitter" is a hashtag.

Here's an example of a Tweet with a hashtag at the end:

Oooh, my lucky day! I just won a $100 instant prize! #sweepstakes

Hashtags are also known as #, tags, hash symbols, and hashes. There's an alternate spelling: hash tags.

For a funny take on hashtags and how it would sound if people used them when they talked like they do when they Tweet, watch this comedy sketch about hashtags by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.

Hashtag History

Hashtags didn't start with Twitter, but social media platforms have made them wildly popular. Hashes were used in programming languages and in IRC chat for decades before Twitter user FactoryJoe suggested bringing them to social media in 2007 with the tweet:

How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?

It took another two years for Twitter to take the suggestion to heart. In 2009, Twitter began linking hashtags to make them searchable by clicking on them. The next year, Twitter used hashtags to identify Trending Topics and posted them on their homepage.

As hashtags became more popular, other social media sites started to pick them up as well. You can find hashtags on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and more.

Why Do People Use Hashtags in Their Posts?

With so many people posting on social media, it can be hard to find the posts you want to read and the people who discuss topics that interest you. There's so much information being posted at any one time that wading through it all is time-consuming and the chance of overlooking something interesting is high.

Hashtags make it easy to search for Tweets with topics that are interesting to you. Some hashtags that sweepstakes fans might enjoy include:

If you search Twitter for those hashtags, you'll receive a list of all the recent posts people have made about those subjects. This is an excellent way to find new social media contests to enter — which is important, since many Twitter giveaways have a very short entry period.

If you use a Twitter client like TweetDeck, you can set up permanent searches for topics that interest you, giving you a constantly-updated source of information.

In some social media clients, you can also mute specific hashtags. If you're sick of hearing about #sports or the #kardashians, you can easily skip those posts in your feed.

Using Hashtags to Enter Twitter Contests

Many Twitter sweepstakes use hashtags to identify entries into their giveaways. Sponsors find entrants by searching for hashtags they specify in their rules.

Commonly, Twitter sweepstakes ask entrants to make a tweet that answers a question, gives an opinion, or shares a story, followed by a specific hashtag.

Here's an example of a hypothetical invitation to enter a Twitter giveaway using a hashtag:

Send a tweet about your favorite summer memory followed by the hashtag #winningsummer to enter.

If you entered that giveaway, your entry might look like this:

My favorite summer memory is going to the state fair with my family when I was 5. I won a prize at ring toss! #winningsummer

When you enter these giveaways, you need to make sure that the giveaway's sponsor can see the posts you make to count your entry. Check that your Twitter profile is set to public, not private, or your entry will not be counted..

Hashtag sweepstakes on Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media platforms work in a similar way.

Conclusion

Hashtags are a quick and easy way to find like-minded people to follow, to attract more people to the posts you make, and to enter giveaways and win fun prizes, all while injecting more personality into your posts. Play around with them when you post on social media and see what a difference they make!

Article Sources

  1. Merriam-Weber, "Hashtag Definition", accessed May 29, 2020.

  2. Adweek, "The History of the Hashtag in Social Media Marketing," accessed May 29, 2020.