Hashtags–How to Explain them to Your Mom.

There’s a lot of noise on the Internet, gazillions of words; the hashtag just helps certain words and search terms to stand out and be grouped together very efficiently.  

In order to understand hashtags and how they work, we need to set the stage a little here.  Imagine you’re in a museum full of artists who are there to showcase their work. These artists come in all shapes and sizes and produce all kinds of interesting works.  And the museum director is conducting a poll in order to classify their works so that when the gala begins, it will be easier for viewers to find the works they’re most interested in.   

Montaplex / Pixabay

One of the artists has blonde hair, is 5’10” tall, paints in abstract; her artwork sells for $2 million and she loves spinach.  The museum director asks her which categories she’d like to be included in and she chooses the following:

  • vegetarian–she thinks vegetarians will relate to her
  • abstract works-she thinks people who like abstract art will like her work
  • tall people-she thinks that other people who are tall will understand her work better because of their vantage point and be able to get into the abstraction and imagine what she meant with her paintings.

When customers arrive for the gala, it’s going to be busy and noisy and difficult to navigate the museum. Some of the art customers will have a broad curiosity in all of the art and come to wander around.  Most of the customers though will come with a specific idea of what they’d like to buy in their mind.

The museum director’s goal is to create a system for the visitors to find the art quickly and efficiently for which they are most interested in.  The ability for the viewers to navigate this full and noisy museum must be made easy so that they will be more likely to purchase art during their visit.  If they don’t purchase during the gala, the director wants the artists to at least be memorable so that they are thought of often and considered as an option the next time the customers are in the market for art buying.

The hashtag is a symbol or signal which notifies search engines that a word or term is special and should be grouped specifically with similar or the same search words.  Hashtags say to the search system, “Hey, I’m over here and I belong with this group.  Notice me too please!”  Like a funnel, the search engine takes all of the data, picks out the terms with the specified hashtag and delivers them in one tidy, easy to read place, creating a relevant grouping of information.  Marketers are able to take advantage of this search feature and get streams of data together in one place and put it into a feed so that like-minded or interested people can search for and view it easily.

Back to our artist.

The museum director asks her why she doesn’t choose to be in the “blonde” category. After all, she can choose as many categories as she wants.

She takes a moment to think and says, “I don’t think it’s relevant and I’m worried people might not take me as seriously if I market myself as a blonde”. One might argue that she’s choosing to exclude blondes from her marketing.  This could be hazardous to her sales.  It has the potential to be offensive. Just look at how things turned out for Krispy Kreme recently; a little thoughtfulness goes a long way!

The complex psychology behind marketing with hashtags is just that odd.  The purpose of a hashtag is to bring together similar things in a category into one place.  It’s like having that room full of artists raising their hands each time the museum director calls a group type and people shuffle from one side of the room to the other into their groups in order to be identified as being part of that group.  If a customer wants art produced by vegetarians, they can now easily see that they need to go to this corner, where all the vegetarians are.

The most popular feed for hashtagged terms is on Twitter.  Instagram is another feed where hashtags are seen, sometimes to excess.  Companies and brands will select hashtags and create entire marketing campaigns around them.  Supporters of a brand can submit their thoughts, ideas and images and “hashtag” them with a word or term to have them included in the stream.  Hashtags, as a marketing tool, are a great way for brands to engage with their customers and create loyalty.  It allows people who don’t necessarily follow your brand on social media to still have potential exposure to your brand just by using the search term which you’ve hashtagged.

For more information on the good and bad practices of hash tagging, visit https://blog.bufferapp.com/a-scientific-guide-to-hashtags-which-ones-work-when-and-how-many

For some fun, albeit accidental autocorrect tagging, visit http://www.lostateminor.com/2014/09/15/hashtag-auto-corrects-causing-grandmothers-accidentally-tag-grandmaster-flash/

And lastly, check out how Jimmy Fallon is influencing the use of hashtags here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/fallontonight/hilarious-hashtags-that-jimmy-fallon-got-trending#.jvE3na3e