Hashtags: Not just source of comic relief


Multiple people have shared the following video on my Facebook news feed: http://gizmodo.com/justin-timberlake-show-us-how-dumb-we-sound-when-we-use-1382465357.  In it, entertainers Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake verbally imitate the way some people haphazardly use hashtags on social media.

HOW ANNOYING. That’s directed to my few Facebook friends who post pictures (every minute, too) with captions in which *every* one of 30 words #has #its #own #individual #hashtag. I’m not sure if they’re doing this to maximize the number of likes their photos will get, if they genuinely think people are searching for pronouns like “I” or phrases like “realwomenlikeracecars,” or if they’ve gone altogether crazy.

People like that are taking hashtags too far.  They are giving hashtags a bad rap.

I wouldn’t be so quick to cast the hashtag aside, though.  It does have its merits.  The idea behind hashtags is that social media users can search for them or click through to them in order to find related material containing the same hashtag.

This can be useful if one day you really feel like seeing posts about a certain topic, such as #cute pictures of #dogs.  This isn’t their only function: hashtags can be useful on a deeper level, too.  When news is breaking, you can click on a trending topic and view all posts with the same tag, which can help you piece together information. The posts will be from a variety of sources that can include both professional news sources and citizen journalists.  This allows you to get multiple perspectives and you can judge for yourself whether or not the posts are reliable or enlightening.

Hashtags can also benefit journalists or companies by popularizing stories or products.  This often happens with TV shows, which may present viewers with a hashtag suggestion on the bottom of their screens.  When many people use the same hashtag at the same time, the hashtag can appear under “Trends” on Twitter.

This can start conversations with people who have used the same hashtags and therefore have similar interests, like watching the same show. It may spark the curiosity of other Twitter users, who might be interested in shows or products they see on the website and decide to find out more about them. If a journalist is lucky or is good at promoting, his or her story can become a trending topic as well.

Trending topics are a good way to find out what is going on in general.  Once you get the gist of a piece of news, you can choose to pursue the rest of the story.

Even though I didn’t click on a hashtag, I came across the above video via another form of trending, as it has gone viral on social media. This just reinforces the utility of hashtags, regardless of how easy they might be to satirize.

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