The year was 2009. I think it was a Friday night because all of my flatmates were up well past midnight. In the 3rd floor of our housing board flat in beach side Tiruvanmiyur, we were hotly debating whether we had just felt the building shake ever so slightly. Mild tremors are tricky to be felt, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. I remember how I had decided to settle the issue by logging on to Twitter. Search: #Chennai. We found out that we were not the only ones to have taken note of the earthquake. Thanks, hashtag!
Twitter hadn’t made it big yet. None of the others present that night were on Twitter, or knew of the hashtag search. Twitter had introduced hashtags earlier that year in July, after toying with the idea for 2 years.
Hashtag was Social search’s answer to Google search’s search bar. Originally introduced to group similar topic conversations for users to track, the hashtag is still that, and yet much more than that. Instagram and Google+ added hashtag support in 2011, and in 2013, they were joined by Vine and a reluctant Facebook.
As the users saw its value, so did brands. Through a simple hashtag, brands could now collect, organise and aggregate user-generated content to design and run cohesive social campaigns. And of course it didn’t stop there. Back in the day, actors would pay their fan groups lavish sums to infiltrate the movie release of their rival actors and ruin the first show with boos and banter. These days it’s the hashtag wars to “trend” higher than their rival fans in social media.
Hashtags took center-stage in every walk of our digital life. From Super Bowls to California wild fires to Arab spring to your neighbor’s wedding – it’s as if nothing relevant happens anymore without a hashtag. “Generation Hashtag” and “Hashtag Activism” are phrases that actually make sense today. Even the concept of hashtag is here to stay. Apparently new generic top-level domains are categorizing the browser or domain name experience in self-selected ways, much like hashtags.
Twitter also knows that hashtags are key to everything happening in the digital world – across the spectrum – right from charities adopting the hashtag for philanthropic activities to the pitiless ISIS using it as their modus operandi – the group’s rapid growth being facilitated by their masterful command of social media. There was much hue and cry when news spread that Twitter is raising the character limit in tweets to 10,000 but one new feature that wasn’t discussed as much – was the introduction of hashtag ads. Although it is still in beta, with all the recent monetization efforts By Twitter, one could see this coming.
2015 would probably be remembered for #piggate, #thedress etc. and the fun people had on social media with these hashtags, and maybe not for the events that lead to those hashtags. So do share this post on social media if you liked it but don’t forget to use #RiseOfHashtag. Before signing off, let me remind you to keep in mind what the Mumbai Police had to say about hashtags!