Hashtag: A Comprehensive or Even TL;DR Guide

December 20, 2018 ・ 16 min read

Hashtags have been with us for more than ten years. That’s right – in 2017, we celebrated the 10th hashtagivarsary. Since their invention in 2007, they have come a long, long way from grouping discussions in first IRC chats, revolutionizing social media to commemorating historical events and raising awareness about social issues. Here’s a TL;DR hashtag guide.

Here’s how did hashtag start:

No matter what the context is, hashtags have always served one purpose — to connect, to build network of connections and to spread the message. Hashtags have quickly caught on and have been used by presidents, artists, celebrities, average Internet users and, what’s more important here — by marketers.

Indeed, the hashtag has become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine that there was a time before the hashtag.

What is a hashtag?

Hashtag is a word or phrase preceded with the hash sign (#), used to categorize the accompanying text in social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. At the same time, hashtags enable a search within by clicking them.

Hashtag history

It’s impossible to provide an exact moment in the history where the hash sign came into being. However, we can easily tell when did the pound sign become hashtag.

Hashtag history and its timeline

The pound symbol

Another story says that typewriter keyboards shared the “number three” key with the monetary symbol of pound which later became the hash sign. If you have a look at your keyboard, you’ll notice that the number three shares one key with the hash sign.

A drawing of a typewriter with the pound symbol in its keyboard

The octothorpe

Some say it all started in Bell Laboratories in 1960s when Bell worked on on the Touch Tone technology that introduced two new buttons. A research conducted on the public revealed that people would see there the asterisk and the hash sign. What’s interesting, the “hash sign” key in the Bell days was known as “octothorpe” – named after an athlete, Thorpe.

A drawing of a telephone with the octothorpe sign on its keyboard


As the hash sign made it to computer keyboards, the Internet Relay Chat was created. IRC was one of the first online communicators and used the hash sign to group conversations about certain topics – it’s just like Slack channels these days.

A drawing of a cloud symbolizing IRC


Chris Messina, a heavy user of the IRC chat and Twitter employee, came up with this idea of gathering all relevant tweets in one place, under one… #hashtag. That how hashtag came into being and later on spread to other social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and now also LinkedIn.

How do hashtags work?

  1. First of all, hashtags work mostly in social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.
  2. They group, tag and connect a social media post to a topic expressed by the hashtag, for example #cycling.
  3. At the same time, hashtags are clickable and enable a search within them.
  4. This is how you can join conversations, browse content and let your content be found in social media.

Here’s one funny explanation of how hashtags work:

Hashtags in social media

As what became known on Twitter as hashtag has been adapted by other social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and now LinkedIn. Even though hashtags across these social media networks are supposed to work the same, they work differently due to the differences in how each social network work. Here’s how hashtags work on particular social media platforms.

Hashtags on Twitter

This is where it all started with the tweet from Chris Messina I mentioned at the beginning. Hashtags on Twitter are mostly used to group conversations about a topic.

Just as you can find conversations under a hashtag, other Twitterers can find your hashtagged content. This how you can join or start a conversation.

Each Twitter account, including yours, once you log in, displays a list of relevant trending hashtags. They are based on accounts you follow and your location.

A screenshot of Twitter post from North Face's page

You can click every single one of them and delve deeper into conversations about a topic.

Also, you can manually look into any hashtag you want. To do so, you need to use Twitter’s internal search. Once you search for your hashtag, Twitter returns the latest and the most engaged tweets using this hashtag.

What’s more, you can browse top accounts to follow, latest tweets, accounts, photos, videos, news and broadcasts mentioning your hashtag.

To follow a Twitter hashtags is, however, not that easy – Twitter doesn’t offer such an opportunity. Nevertheless, here’s how you can follow a hashtag on Twitter using a social media monitoring tool.

Hashtags on Facebook

Facebook isn’t as spectacular when it comes to hashtags as Twitter or Instagram – hashtags there work best only on public profiles and fan pages. This is because of privacy settings – if a Facebook user really values privacy and hides his or hers posts and activities from the public, any hashtagged content us untrackable to other users and the internal search engine.

A screenshot of a Facebook post from Salomon's fanpage

In any other case, you can look up hashtags in Facebook’s internal search – it works like a dream when it comes to public profiles – company, celebrity, brand and other fan pages.

Then, search results are influenced by your Facebook friends and pages you like.

To be honest, hashtags on Facebook don’t actually matter unless you run a hashtag marketing campaign.

Still, if you’re a marketer, it’s worth to track hashtag performance on Facebook.

Hashtags on YouTube

Hashtags appeared on YouTube in 2016. They fullfil their original purpose which was to categorize content.

A screenshot of Gary Vaynerchuck's YouTube video with hashtags

Hashtags on YouTube can be used in titles, descriptions. Now, apart from these places, YouTube videos can be hashtagged and categorized to provide users with even more relevant results. Hashtags on YouTube in video description are clickable and let you explore a topic deeper, beyond the old search engine.

Hashtags on Instagram

Another social media platform to adapt hashtags was Instagram – a photo-sharing platform that quickly won the hearts of those who think an image is worth a thousand words.

On Instagram, hashtags are crucial to growing Instagram audience. If you posted an Instagram post without hashtags, your post would reach only your followers – there’s no chance new people see your post.

Thanks to hashtags, your posts get discovered and appear in the Explore page – other Instagrammers can find you there.

A screenshot of Instagram post

Without hashtags, there’s no way you can grow your account.

You can browse other Instagrammers’ content using the Explore page or by following a hashtag. The Instagram posts you can browse in the Explore page are based on the accounts, hashtags you follow or browse.

The biggest win you can have on Instagram is if you make it to the Explore page – it depends on a few factors, for example using trending hashtags. Learn how to find trending hashtags on Instagram.

Learn more about Instagram hashtag analytics.

Hashtags on LinkedIn

Last but not least, beginning 2018, hashtags are now on LinkedIn, too. At the moment, however, LinkedIn is just testing them and that’s why hashtags are available only to some users. LinkedIn says they want to help users reach relevant topics and offer the opportunity to join relevant conversations.

There’s a lot you can do with LinkedIn hashtags – join conversations, start conversations, add hashtags to articles on LinkedIn Pulse, or even follow hashtags.

Types of hashtags

1. Daily hashtags.

It seems that days of the week influence now both human and hashtag life. Each day of the week celebrates something you can share in social media and get it hashtagged: Monday – #MondayMotivation, #MondayBlues; Tuesday #TravelTuesday; Wednesday – #WisdomWednesday; Thursday – #ThrowbackThursday; Friday – #TGIF; Saturday – #SaturdayNightFever; Sunday – #SundayFunday.

A screenshot of a Dexter the Cat Twitter post showing an every day hashtag use

The year is full of holidays, celebrations and festivals – everyday there’s something to celebrate, be it International Country Music Day, Cat Day, Pizza Day or Programmer’s Day. Who established these days? I have no idea but I can tell you that they get hashtagged, too, for example, #IndependenceDay, #WorldPhotographyDay, #WorldSleepDay.

2. Branded hashtags.

Branded hashtags are of interest to companies, marketers, social media managers and consumers particularly attached to brands. For marketers, branded hashtags are a must – it’s a way to expand the social media presence of the company, reach potential customers, and spread brand awareness.

A screenshot of a Frank and Oak Twitter Twitter post showing their branded hashtag

What’s more, branded hashtags allow marketers to measure their marketing activities: contests, marketing campaigns, or brand awareness. Hashtag analytics provides plenty of pieces of data about hashtags which can be used to estimate marketing performance of a company.

3. Marketing hashtags.

Companies big and small use hashtags to support their marketing campaigns. How these hashtags help them in this area? Well, there’s a few ways hashtags support marketing campaigns.

A screenshot of a KFC Twitter post showing a marketing hashtag

First of all, companies running marketing campaigns use dedicated hashtags to spread the awareness about the campaign and the company. The more consumers in social media sees the hashtag, the bigger the chance it grabs their attention, engages, turns into customers.
Secondly, companies create hashtags to encourage customers to participate, engage and create content. This is how they get user-generated content that works just like a social proof and endorsement.
Lastly, hashtag in marketing campaigns help companies measure the effectiveness of their marketing actions. There are at least 5 hashtag metrics you can track to assess how your hashtag marketing campaign performs.

4. Niche hashtags.

Each of us is a niche. What’s yours? I’m into #cycling, #travel, #foodporn and #ContentMarketing. Niche hashtags are used to reach and join conversations about specific topics relevant to you. Remember that it’s much more than just #NicheNameHashtag – each niche has much more hashtags within you should use to make your content trending and reaching a wide audience. Wedding hashtags, startup hashtags, Wednesday hashtags, fashion hashtags or food hashtags hold even more hashtags within these categories. Here’s a few words how to find other trending hashtags for your niche on Instagram.

A screenshot of an Instagram post from thecyclingculture profile

5. Location hashtags. 

These hashtags are used to describe a location you are or were in. Location hashtags are often just names of places but some of them, keen on marketing places, have dedicated hashtags. One example can be the city Manchester which encourages people to use the #ManCity hashtag.

Location hashtags are particularly important for the tourist industry – if they want to be found and whet the appetite of travelers, they should use the trending hashtags connected to the place.

A screenshot of an Instagram post with location hashtags

Location hashtags are also important for outdoor photographers – if the want their work to be found by wider audience, they should also use trending hashtags describing the place the photo was taken in.

6. Event hashtags.

Conferences, events, sports etc. – they all use event hashtags. Event hashtags spread the word about the event before, during and after the event – the longer it exists in social media, the more people it reaches. It can translate into bigger attendance, increased social media buzz, more sponsors, or bigger media coverage.

A screenshot of a Twitter post containing an event hashtag

Event hashtags boost engagement and social media reach during an event as participants share photos, opinions and discuss in social media topics connected to the conference. Event hashtag helps participants ask questions in case of problems – an event manager is then able to respond momentarily and help out. Again, event hashtag helps measure the social media impact of an event: social media reach, engagement, volume of mentions of the most influential social media authors. On the basis of these metrics, you can measure the social media performance of the event.

7. Community hashtags.

At the first sight, community hashtags might look like niche hashtags. The truth is, they are completely different. While niche hashtags simply represent som areas of life, such as sports, hobbies or industries, community hashtags are created to serve certain communities gathered around, for example, products, influencers, brands or any other, more specific theme. For example, if a person uses a Canon camera to take photos, he or she can use the #canonshooter hashtag.

A screenshot of an Instagram post using community hashtag #inmyelemnt #wahooligan

8. Contest hashtags.

One social media tactic to boost engagement around a company is to run a social media contest. It’s a great way to reach new audience. Social media contest include the use of a hashtag as the way to spread awareness, get more people involved and find all participants of the contest.

An example of a contest hashtag found on Twitter on Homeland Florists profile

Five most iconic hashtags of all time.


Remember these videos of people pouring buckets of ice-cold water over themselves? It was the #IceBucketChallenge. It all started from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) sufferer, Pete Frates as a fundraising campaign that from the closest circle of acquaintances went viral all over the Internet and involved celebrities, scientists, actors and other popular and influential people. Here’s Bill Gates taking part in the challenge and nominating other great minds.


#JeSuisCharlie hashtag on Twitter

This hashtag was created to commemorate the victims of terrorist attack carried out on journalists of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper. The slogan that evolved into one of the most iconic hashtags ever was also to support the freedom of speech – the newspaper was known for satirical images and Muslim caricatures what probably made it the target.


#TheDress hashtag from Twitter

Thursday, February 26th, 2015. Social media went crazy over a dress. It all started from a wedding. The mother of the bride asked her daughter for opinion about the dress. The daughter disapproved of the dress, so the mother sent it to tumblr’s swiked, Caitlin McNeill, whose band was to play at the wedding. swiked then published the image to tumblr and this is where it all started. Soon after, the dress became #TheDress and roughly 20 minutes after after the post, Twitter reported that the hashtag get’s 5,000 tweets per minute which was just a start. That’s correct – arguing about the color of a dress has become one of the most viral hashtags ever.


A screenshot of a Twitter post containing the original #CupForBen hashtag

In 2016, Twitter saw a touching story of Marc Carter and his autistic son. The little man has been sipping his drinks from the same Tommy Tippee blue cup since a kid. Because Ben doesn’t like to drink out of any other cup, and the production of the cup was down, his dad got worried when the favorite cup began to fall apart. Marc tweeted asking people about a spare cup and used the #CupForBen hashtag. The message spread and reached Tomee Tippee which decided to help out. A team found the original design of the cup and produced 500 cups for Ben so that he never runs out of them.


A screenshot of a Twitter post with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag

Another memorable hashtag supported in social media a movement. #BlackLivesMatter was created after a neighbourhood watch coordinator shot to death a 17-year-old boy of African-American origin. Since then, the hashtag has been massively used to raise awareness about racism. According to ADWEEK, since July 2013, the hashtag has been used 30 million times on Twitter.

Five iconic hashtag marketing campaigns


A screenshot of Coca Cola's tweet using #ShareACoke hashtag

My favorite sodie pop, Coca-Cola, launched a multi-national marketing campaign that soon turned out to be a massive. Coca-cola replaced its beautiful logo we all know with the phrase “Share a Coke” followed by a name, nickname or title. Along with the debranded coke bottles, Coca-Cola created the #ShareACoke hashtag which, unsurprisingly, went viral.

The brand encouraged consumers to post in social media photos of themselves with the #ShareACoke hashtag. In exchange, they got the chance to appear on one of Coca-Cola’s banners in the US. The campaign was a big success – it reversed the decline in Coca-Cola consumption and won numerous awards.


A screenshot of Red Bull's tweet using #PutACanOnIt hashtag

Next, we have Red Bull with the award-winning #PutACanOnIt campaign. Do you recall Red Bull Mini Coopers with cans on them? So Red Bull found on Twitter a fan’s photo of Mini Cooper with the photographer holding a Red Bull can to the back of the car making it look like a Red Bull Mini. The brand turned this photo into a social media marketing campaign with the #PutACanOnIt. Since then, fans have “put a can on” everything – cars, people, animals, natures and more!

What’s interesting, other brands producing canned drinks, including Pepsi, took part in the campaign in their own way. For example, Pepsi posted a similar photo of their can to which RedBull responded with putting their can on a Pepsi can. What’s more, Perrier put its can on top of the Pepsi and Redbull cans and posted to social media. This interaction between brands has been positively received by fans of these brands. The campaign was a success – fans posted 10,000 hashtagged photos.


Another successful marketing campaign involving hashtag comes from Airbnb, an accommodation rental site where people rent their own places to other people. In 2016, Airbnb admitted that the platform community struggled with discrimination based on national origin, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. What’s more, in February 2017, the US imposed a travel ban on individuals of seven Muslim countries. Having these events at the back of their mind, Airbnb launched the #WeAccept campaign to raise awareness and eliminate this widespread discrimination.

The campaign was super successful – it earned 87 million impressions on social media. During Super Bowl, the hashtag was the number one used advertiser hashtag and generated 33 thousand tweets in the first half of the game. Sentiment analysis of the hashtag showed that 85% of all hashtag mentions were positive. The numbers hit 90 thousand shares and 500 thousand likes on Instagram and Facebook. Airbnb website traffic increased by 13%.



Another big win was scored by Calvin Klein, an iconic fashion brand. In 2012, the majority of social media discussions about the brand expressed longing for the Calvin Klein of the 80s and 90s. To reinvigorate the brand, CK encouraged consumers to use #MyCalvins hashtag in social media to present their pieces of CK clothing. Then, the brand invited a bunch of models and celebrities including Justin Bieber to become the faces of the campaign. Next, CK coined the “I _ in #MyCalvins” encouraging people, celebrities and influencers to spread the word.

The campaign resulted in 28% increase in social media conversations. Social media mentions expressing longing for the nostalgia of the 80s and 90s decreased to 13%. Also, there’s been a change in demographics of people engaged in conversations about the brand – the majority of participants belong now go Gen Z.


Some time ago, Fox was to introduce a new TV series called the Gifted. At that time, there have already been plenty of superhero content out there which only posed an additional challenge – how to stand out with yet another TV series in the already vast superhero universe? The marketing team of the Gifted, despite little budget, ran an amazing marketing campaign across many channels, including social media.

The campaign involved an amazing storytelling shared online and in social media with the #MutantsUnite hashtag. The campaign was a huge success – social media content generated 33 million impressions!

Hashtag performance

As seen above, all brands used a dedicated hashtag to assess the social media effectiveness of their campaigns. There’s a few metrics you can use to track hashtag performance on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. With their help, you will be able to discover the social media impact of your event, hashtag campaign, hashtag contest or how your brand awareness spreads across social media.

1. Volume of mentions.

First of all, you can keep track of how many times your hashtag was used on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This metric illustrates the volume of conversations the social media posts using your hashtag.

2. Metrics of social media reach.

While volume of your hashtag mentions informs you only about the number of people actually using your hashtag, social media reach illustrates other social media users who might have come across social media posts containing your hashtag.

3. Metrics of engagement.

You can track metrics of engagement – the number of likes and shares the social media posts including your hashtag received. It’s always good to see high engagement as it’s a proof that your content resonates somehow with your audience.

4. Metrics of influence.

That’s right – influence of social media profiles mentioning your hashtags can be put into numbers. On its basis you can see all influential sources using your hashtag. It’s a way to find out if the media, experts, or influencers use your hashtag.

5. Metrics of sentiment.

While volume of your hashtag mentions informs you only about the number of people actually using your hashtag, social media reach illustrates other social media users who might have come across social media posts containing your hashtag.

To be continued!