Hashtag History: The Evolution of Popular Marketing Hashtags

CATEGORY: Communication | Digital Marketing | Industry Trends | Marketing | Social Media

Hashtags, those little grids followed by words, have become a hilarious, informative, and sometimes downright bizarre part of our online lives. Remember that time when everyone was obsessed with #TheDress?  Blue and black, or gold and white? Feels like yesterday right? But did you know they weren’t always used for sparking viral debates about clothing or anything at all? Let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore the evolution of the mighty hashtag, especially its rise as a marketing tool.

Believe it or not, the hashtag symbol (#) has been around for ages, known as the number sign or pound sign. Back in the day, it was used for things like numbering lists or representing weight (like 5# of sugar). But then came 2007, and a tech enthusiast named Chris Messina had a brilliant idea. He proposed using hashtags on Twitter as a way to group messages on similar topics.  Think of it as the OG way to create a chatroom –  but way cooler because it involved the internet.

Fun fact: the very first documented hashtag wasn’t about a cute cat video (shocking, we know). It was actually #sandiegofire, used in 2007 by a Twitter user to share real-time updates about wildfires in California. This marked a turning point. People realized the power of hashtags to connect and share information during breaking news events. Twitter, seeing the potential, hopped on board and made hashtags clickable, allowing users to easily find tweets with the same hashtag.

Suddenly, Twitter was abuzz with hashtags. People were using them to follow trends, join conversations about everything from politics to the latest episode of their favourite show, and even find communities with similar interests.  Remember those days when “trending topics” were the hottest thing on Twitter? Yep, you can thank the humble hashtag for that.

By the early 2010s, hashtags were no longer just a Twitter thing. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook saw their potential, and soon everyone was hashtagging away.  However, each platform used them slightly differently. For instance, Instagram, with its focus on photos, turned hashtags into a way to discover content.  Suddenly, travel bloggers were using #wanderlust, foodies were all about #foodporn, and outfit inspiration came with the #ootd hashtag.

Brands also quickly realized that hashtags were a goldmine for reaching target audiences and building brand awareness. And like that, branded hashtags were born, encouraging user-generated content with campaigns like #MyCalvins or #ShareaCoke.  Of course, with great power comes great responsibility (we see you, #Fail attempts). Marketers had to learn to avoid “hashtag hijacking,” where users take a branded hashtag and use it for unintended purposes.

Looking to the future, we all understand that social media platforms are constantly innovating, and hashtags are no exception. Now we have features like suggested hashtags and the ability to follow specific hashtags to stay updated on a particular topic.  The key for marketers today is to be strategic about hashtag use. Picking the right ones can make or break your campaign’s reach and engagement. Who knows, maybe in the future,  we’ll be using voice-activated hashtags or even holographic hashtag projections – the possibilities are endless!

In all, hashtags have come a long way, from their humble beginnings as a pound sign to now, a powerful marketing tool. The key takeaway? Hashtags are all about connection, conversation, and keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s trending. So, the next time you post something online, remember the power of the hashtag – use it wisely, and who knows, you might just spark the next viral trend.