It has pretty much turned into an everyday question for me these days. Someone will come up to me and with a confused look on their face say, “So I really don’t get what that number sign means that goes directly in front of a word/words that everyone seems to use EVERYWHERE. What does it even mean?” Well my friend, that is one loaded question.
Tonight we are talking hashtags. People who don’t know what hashtags are will refer to them as a “number sign,” “pound sign,” or  “tic-tac-toe” sign. However, in the context of social media and pretty much in the context of pop culture today, they are called hashtags. A hashtag is expressed as the following: #WordOrPhrase. Once you utilize the “#” sign and add a word or any combination of words after it, you have created a hashtag!
So you know how to create a hashtag but how do you really use a hashtag? What do they mean?  This is where I always have to stop myself for a second and find the best way to respond. Hashtags are one of those things where you know what they mean if you know what they mean. Okay, I always hate receiving answers like that so I am going to do a better job of explaining it. But it is true though, all of my nerdy social media friends just get it. We understand the variety of ways hashtags can be used…it is pretty much like speaking a language. I am going to do my best at explaining “this language” by breaking it down by the main ways they are used.
Let me start by relating how hash tags were originally supposed to be used and really how they are still used today. First off, keep in mind that HT’s originated on Twitter. If you are so far behind on the social media curve that you do not have a good grasp on Twitter I suggest you read some of my past blogs on the subject.  Anyway, say there was a certain event going on that a lot of people who were Twitter users were experiencing…let’s just say the Super Bowl. In order to connect with everyone at the game or just everyone watching the game, a HT could be implemented that was expressed as #SuperBowl. When a Twitter user wrote a tweet that had to do with the Super Bowl, he/she would add the #SuperBowl HT somewhere in the tweet. This would make it so that tweet would be grouped with all the other tweets that referenced the hashtag as well. This makes it possible for people to see what others are saying and to connect with them if they feel like it. If enough people are talking about a certain event and sharing a common hashtag, they can get it trending. I know most everyone has heard that word. Trending is a term that Twitter reserves for the most popular hashtags at a given time. Trending topics are given a special spot on the Twitter homepage.
However, as Twitter has exploded and other social media channels have emerged, hashtags have evolved. They are no longer just a code word or a rallying point ….they are much more casual. You will see hashtags used simply to summarize a tweet or a statement. You know how you give a subject line to an e-mail? Well, hashtags act as a subject line for tweets. These hashtags can be as obvious and boring as someone going to take their drivers’ test. They could tweet the following: The big day is finally here. I am going to the DMV to take my driver’s test #DriversLicense. You see how that worked? The fictitious person who tweeted that explained what they were doing and then gave it a hash tag that summarized what the main point or goal was. Here is another example: So fun in Bozeman today watching the Griz once again destroy Montana State #winning. I used this example for two reasons. For one, it again showed how hashtags are used to summarize. The person who wrote this saw their team win, that was the focal point of the tweet. Secondly, I used it because #winning is probably the most popular hash tag in the world. Because of the popularity that Charlie Sheen brought the term and because of its diverse nature, it is used a lot. As a matter of fact, probably 50% of my tweets contain the hashtag of #winning.
Let’s end with the most ambiguous usage of the hashtag. Let’s say you look at a tweet and you notice that the hash tag is not really referencing an event/date and it seems to have nothing to do with the subject of the tweet. Is the person who sent out the tweet on crack? Hardly. In this present day, hashtags are abused…in a good way of course! People will add the most random, most bizarre, and most stupid hash tags onto their tweets. People will use hash tags to express sarcasm, tell an inside joke, flirt, insult, drop a hint, secretly communicate, detail irony, relate a story, add additional information, reference something, advertise a product, throw someone off, or one of a thousand (and I really many a thousand) different other usages. Like I said earlier, you really just have to be continually exposed to this type of communication to really understand it. I will give some examples of hash tags fitting into a few of the above categories. Sarcasm: If I lose twenty pounds by the weigh-in tomorrow, I will achieve my New Year’s Resolution #NoShotInHell.   Flirt: So good to see @DreamGirl at the store today #SoPretty #SmellsGood. Irony (actual tweet from me): Just locked my keys in my car in the CVS parking lot. Raining outside #winning. Additional Information: Very depressed right now, did not pass my driver’s test today #CouldNotParallelPark #RanOverSomeDog.
Can you kind of see the myriad of ways that hash tags can be used? While it can be a little confusing, it is also a lot of fun.  Just in the same way that instant messaging shorthand/language has spread from AIM to the classroom (i.e. George Wash. waz a good prez of the us lol) so have hash tags. I personally use HT’s in all of the social media/chat platforms I use…Facebook, Instagram, Words with Friends, Voxer, etc. I have used them in e-mails. I have even used them in hand written notes. And sadly, I have actually used hash tags will speaking out loud (i.e. “Glen, we are going to play in this Vegas poker tournament and we are going to do some damage…Hashtag WINNING”). Hashtags aren’t going anywhere.
#SoIHopeIClearedUpSomeOfTheConfusionOnHashTags #PleaseDontHesitateToAskMeAnyQuestions #HashTagsAreAVeryUniqueAndFunWayToCommunicate #BestToBeAsCompetentAsPossible #ThanksForTakingTheTimeToReadMyBlogIAmHumbledByMyGrowingReadership #Winning #DontBlink.