We had a post scheduled on the power of the hashtag for a few weeks – then the recent tragic events in Paris occurred. The subsequent rapid emergence of the poignant #JeSuisCharlie hashtag in response to the terrorist atrocities committed demonstrated like never before exactly what we were trying to convey and highlighted how the hashtag is now so much more than simply the end of a tweet.

Hashtag Speech Bubble ConceptA hashtag is described as ‘word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media sites such as Twitter to identify messages on a specific topic‘. It really was that simple – an easy way of ’rounding up’ posts on a similar subject and providing an easy way of reading them all in one place. Twitter didn’t invent the hashtag, but it did start in on the social network in 2007 where it’s use exploded when Twitter designer Chris Messina asked his followers how they felt about using the pound sign to group conversations (online use of the hashtag actually began on IRC  in the late 1990s, where it was used to categorise items into groups).

Now in 2015, hashtags are used across Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. For businesses, they are used to build brand awareness, build relationships and help generate brand loyalty. Bloggers use them to increase awareness of their posts amongst their community and readers, for example the popular #bbloggers and #fbloggers hashtags used by beauty and fashion bloggers. Individuals use them to comment on topical situations, to express sohttp://southcoastsocial.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1002&action=editlidarity, to create awareness of a cause or topic – a way of getting your voice heard.

Recent emotive examples have included the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, which emerged in response to the way minority deaths are portrayed in the media, in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown (18) by a police officer in St Louis, USA. Many black men and women tweeted side-by-side photos of themselves — one image depicting the user as an upstanding or everyday citizen, and another showing the user as stereotypically thuggish. As we mentioned above however, nothing really highlights the power of the hashtag like #JeSuisCharlie. Originally created by Joachim Roncin from French magazine Stylist just after the shocking news of the attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices, he shared it alongside his graphic depicting the Charlie Hebdo font and it instantly caught the imagination of a country in shock, multiplying faster and faster to become one of Twitters most ‘popular’ ever hashtags. The message was simple and clear – we are all Charlie – and it unified a world coming to terms with the atrocities committed on that day. It was used on banners, across news outlets and in almost every piece of news coverage of the response to the attacks – transcending online social media to become a powerful message and a slogan to be shouted in defiance of terrorism, symbolic of unity and solidarity.

Finally, if you are interested in the growth and history of the hashtag, we love this infographic from Digital Marketing Philippines.

The History and Power of Hashtags in Social Media Marketing (Infographic) - An Infographic from Digital Marketing Philippines  , , , , , , , , , , ,