#Hashtags – you’re doing it wrong

Despite all the hashtag articles popping up since Facebook, Google+ and other social networks began to roll them out, very few users actually understand their original purpose.

First and foremost, let’s go back to 26 August 2007. This is the date that an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) user convinced the engineers at Twitter to group conversation and topics with a ‘pound’ (#), or hashtag as we know it today. IRC was a primitive form of interactive internet text messaging (chat), which was first used in 1988 and paved the way for many communication and messaging concepts that we commonly use today.

So, this grouping of topics into one cohesive stream was, and still is, the primary utility for the hashtag. Tell this to 95 per cent of the world’s population and the reply will be a big fat #WTF. Why? Because the hashtag is being used to supplement sarcasm, humour and adjectives.

Let’s look at an example.

Tonight I’m going to see the new Gravity movie! #excited #datenight #film #gravity #popcorn #2for1

Now, of the above hashtags, only two of them perform any real function. So, why are people and brands using them so much?

Part of the problem is that we are used to squeezing in as much as possible int short-form writing. The other is what I will call a ‘lazy keyboard’. Some are unable to put in the time and effort to actually write what they mean.

Let’s have another go.

Excited about tonight’s date night. Scored some 2 for 1 tickets to see Gravity! #film #gravity

What brands must realise is that the more tech-savvy of your audience frowns upon tacky overuse of the hashtag. Stay classy. Use the hashtag as it was ultimately intended – as a grouping utility.

Finally, think twice about adding a hashtag to your company’s next Facebook post. A new report from Facebook analytics company EdgeRank suggests that they don’t make a difference when it comes to reaching customers.