As of five days ago, the hashtag is officially a whole decade old, what began as a form of organization is now a vital element in how we communicate online.
Before becoming a prime tool for engagement, the pound or number sign was just another symbol. It wasn’t until former Google and Uber designer Chris Messina produced what would become the first hashtag in a tweet on August 23, 2007, the day that everything changed. He threw out a question on the still freshman website, asking whether the pound sign would be useful for group messaging.
From then on it took off and joined Twitter’s other milestones, including @mentions and @replies.
When asked why he never patented this universally embraced idea, Messina offered two reasons on Quora.
“1. Claiming a government-granted monopoly on the use of hashtags would have likely inhibited their adoption, which was the antithesis of what I was hoping for, which was broad-based adoption and support — across networks and mediums.
2. I had no interest in making money (directly) off hashtags. They are born of the Internet and should be owned by no one. The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today are valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea.”
While the first ever hashtag was #barcamp, the second was #noticias, or “news” in Spanish. The most popular hashtag of all time is #NP or #nowplaying with over one billion tweets.
Since then, the most used hashtag is the trending tag which pops up on multiple platforms including Twitter, Instagram, and most online media. They constantly change and carry some serious weight in company marketing and culture.
Hashtags today range from the politically and socially minded like #BlackLivesMatter, a civil movement that mobilized on Twitter, or viral and entertaining like the #IceBucketChallenge to raise ALS awareness.
For companies in the 21st century, the hashtag has completely altered their online marketing strategy and made online and branding symbiotic.
Coca Cola created the campaign “Share a Coke with…” and labeled all their cans and bottles with names of people, places, and things. The hashtag #ShareaCoke generated hundreds of thousands of tweets.
Twitter’s blog shared a few other ways the company has changed marketing culture.
“Brands are also driving movements for social good. Rather than just connecting to culture, they are creating and sustaining it. To change the negative conversation about body image, Dove released its iconic #SpeakBeautiful campaign during the 2015 Oscars. The result: 30% fewer negative beauty conversations, and 69% more positive beauty conversations compared to Oscar night 2014.”
Like Messina said, this idea though stupidly simple, has become one of the most effective ways to create community in a society that is becoming more fractious.