The hashtag symbol was first used as a grouping symbol in 1988. People recognized it as an unimportant symbol that showed up on an old typewriter or a telephone keypad. But in 2007, things started to change for this little sign when Chris Messina posted a tweet in 2017.
Twitter immediately rejected this idea at first. But then, Tweeps used the hashtag for the San Diego Fire (#SandiegoFire) and many other trending topics. As a result, Twitter introduced the hashtag as a search tool in 2009. Instagram used it since the first day the app launched in 2010. Facebook grasped the culture in 2013. Soon, many other social media platforms and websites started to embrace the hashtag slowly.
Who knew such a trivial symbol could significantly impact world peace, women rights, racial issues, and our own lives? Hashtags have influenced people across the world to raise their voices for and against global concerns and social issues. They brought activism to its peak through movements such as the #BlackLivesMatter, #HeForShe, #MeToo, #lovewins, #ProtectOurWinters, #ClimateChangeIsReal and more campaigns. Today, this has become a significant way of demanding justice, awareness and even fundraising. They have proven to have an impact on policy changes, organizational decision making and global politics.
Even in Sri Lanka, this trend has propagated like wildfire. Social media platforms have become a powerful weapon of “cancelling” specific incidents and people who fuel stereotypes, injustice and violence. For example, #EndPoliceBrutality, #JusticeForThariq, #JusticeForHishalini, #StopForcedCremations became popular hashtags recently. As a result, Sri Lankan social media users try to dig deep into social, political, and environmental issues.
The hashtag is also an effective strategy in digital marketing and branding. Companies use hashtags as an inducement to attract customers and to grow their online presence. They create hashtags by adding words, acronyms and phrases that are related to the brand. Hashtags can also be something that their customers may find inspiring. Relevant and trending hashtags play a significant role in promoting companies. For example, the brand AIESEC promotes its brand name through attractive hashtag phrases. Some of them are, #LiveTheExperience, #LeadInnovateIvolve, #BeTheChange, #Youth4GG and #GlobalVolunteer. These are not only memorable, but also they support the purpose of the brand #AIESEC.
Social media influencers use hashtags to market products, brands and even themselves. Instagram influencers use hashtags to stimulate their audience. As a result, they can boost the promotion of products and increase their followers. Some hashtags used by influencers are #instagood, #instadaily, #instafood and #instamood.
Apart from hashtag activism and hashtag marketing, ordinary social media users also use hashtags daily. We come across hundreds of hashtags as we scroll through social media. As a result, they have become a natural part of our daily routine. Hashtags help recommend what we want to check online. They could suggest Instagram profiles, social media challenges, entertaining profiles or products and services that match your preferences. Social media users create and use hashtags when they post their pictures or tweet their thoughts. They use hashtags such as #travel, #fitness, #photography, #vsco, #lol, #holiday and #sunset to keep up with the trend.