5 ways hashtags have changed our lives

24 August 2017

This week marks the 10th birthday of the trusted hashtag. Our head of content, Sophie Turton, explores how the symbol has transformed our lives.

Love them or hate them, hashtags have become a prominent part of popular culture. Born from the desire to make conversations and events on Twitter easier to follow, the humble pound sign has risen to international fame. It is now used by millions of people around the world every day.

To pay homage to the most heroic of symbols, we’ve explored how the hashtag has helped create expansive communities, encouraged socio-political movements and given individuals a voice in unprecedented ways.

Communities were formed

The hashtag was created by Chris Messina, a developer from San Francisco, as a way to centralise conversations and events on Twitter. Twitter now generates 125 million hashtags a day across every topic imaginable. From #barcamp, the first ever hashtag, to #nowplaying, the most used, the public use the symbol to share their thoughts, feelings and the intricacies of their lives with like-minded Twitter users.

We stood up against persecution

Hashtags allowed us to communicate with each other in a way we’d never done before. Today they are used to demonstrate a shared understanding - a way to say ‘Yes! Me too!’ and ‘No! This is not ok!’ Many socio-political groups and activist uprisings have been facilitated through the use of the symbol.

#blacklivesmatter, #everydaysexism and #yesallwomen (the list goes on and on) are all powerful examples of a shared sense of fury towards individual and group persecution. Through this new-found ability to tell the world about our experiences and the those of the people around us - and through the support and love given in return by total strangers - thought patterns have begun to shift.

We showed support in the face of atrocity

Deep in a decade of war, and suffering from a sense of hopeless impotence, people from every culture and religion took to Twitter to show support for victims of crime the world over.

In 2015, #JeSuisCharlie was shared five million times in the two days after the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo. #PrayforParis was tweeted more than six million times after subsequent attacks in and around Paris.

Social media allows us to share our stories through a series of captions and images, and through a centralised hashtag those who are removed from situations - yet no less moved by them - are able to get a better understanding and even help out in times of adversity.

Instagram stars were born

Moving from Twitter to Instagram, the heroic hashtag has helped mums, fitness freaks, health fanatics, pretty people, unusual looking people, and humans large and small rise to international acclaim.

Instagram hashtags act as a way to categorise the tens of millions of photos and videos uploaded every day, ensuring that users can quickly find inspiring snaps of everything from #foodporn to #ecoart, all in one place. That’s not to mention a spate of attention-hungry tags such as #like4like and #followme.

The Instastar industry is now worth around $500 million and those with over 50k followers stand to make thousands of dollars per post. This has changed our life in unprecedented ways, for without the hashtag we may never know how dangerous wheat, sugar, alcohol, children, filters, selfies, parents, love...are. And we may miss out on the intricacies of random people’s lives.

Audiences took control of their own digital experience

For us marketers, hashtags are a goldmine. Not only do they aid organic reach, they also offer invaluable audience insight, centralised around a specific topic or brand. We can use hashtags to get a sense of how people are reacting to every important news story, cultural trend or marketing campaign.

Since social media has allowed audiences to take control of their own digital journeys, hashtags have become a marketer’s roadmap - they are the way to keep track of conversations around brands or products, and to guide the audience’s journey.

Hashtags help us retain a level of control in a landscape where, increasingly, audiences are the stars of the show.

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