I recently was talking to a client who I thought was pretty tech-savvy. When chatting about social media, he simply asked, "what in the hell is a hashtag". I gave him a quick explanation, but he was still puzzled on what they are and how to use them.
Hashtags are a reference tool to comment or refer to a large topic on social media and the web. The widespread use of hashtags started on Twitter but use of hashtags quickly travelled to Facebook and Instagram. They are a powerful tool, yet many people misuse them daily.
The hashtag has always been used a reference tool in the early information technology field. It started in the very earliest versions of the C programing languages. Programers used them to call up specific keywords and strings to make life a little easier. This way they were able to tell the computer which part of the code needed to be processed first. In 2009 Twitter began hyper-linking to these hashtags as a method of grouping topics together. Now you can take part in a world-wide discussion using these awesome little symbols.
Hashtags are a great way to search topics and trends. By utilizing them in social media you can contribute to or research a topic. You can even search on google, bing and yahoo for whatever topic interests you.
We'll use twitter to explain further. In Twitter you can explore trending topics using the discover section. Here you can see what hashtags are being used the most in tweets world wide. By studying one of the topics you can reply to the world with your thoughts on the subject.
However, misuse of these tools can hinder you greatly. It can damage your reputation greatly if you don't know what your doing. If you're not hiring a professional to handle your social media or have someone talented in-house, then it's probably best to sign up and read first. This is true on just about any social media platform. You have to crawl before you can walk (see also "The Time is Now; Get on Social Media").