The power of a #hashtag

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No doubt the hashtag has become a powerful tool in this digital age. Well of course, it drew most, if not all of it’s power from Twitter, not only because it originated there but also because of the structure (for lack of a better word) of the platform. However, it still is powerful even on other social networking platforms.

Not only is it relevant on social media, but it’s power has also been harnessed to create entertainment shows. Shows such as SABC3’s TSA (Trending South Africa) are bound to always be interesting and current even with little effort from the producers etc. all because of a simple hashtag! So maybe the hashtag is worth exploring after all… therefore, let’s!

1. Hashtags bring people together

On Twitter, you can find hashtags such as #IfZimbabweWasAComputerProgram. Such simple hashtags can bring many programmers (and even non-programmers) together to have some fun, be creative and share ideas on computer programming.

A good example from the top of my head of a hashtag that went viral and engaged people from all over Africa was the #IfAfricaWasABar. The hashtag went beyond being humorous and brought in a sense of Pan Africanism not only in Africa, but throughout the world.

On Facebook however, hashtags give people something in common, something it’s users call all relate to e.g. #MCM or #WCW. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, as long as you are not in China you know exactly what this means because it has over the years become a universal hashtag.

2. Hashtags simplify search

Can you try to imagine how much data is on the World Wide Web (www) especially now that uploading content has been made easy for anyone and everyone who has access to the internet through various sites including social media? Now imagine trying to find specific things in the midst of all that data! Well, of course search engines such as Google have made life easy for us in that regard, but guess what? Hashtags have also made Google’s life easy too. Hashtags help cluster similar/similarly themed content, thereby making it easy to follow through topics of interest; be it on the whole www or on specified social networking platforms.

3. Hashtags allow for discussion

Apart from giving you an idea of whats trending in a specified area (be it geographic or otherwise), hashtags allow you to be a part of the discussion. Some people would have never engaged on trending issues had it not been for the hashtag. Hashtags flag out important issues and allow people from all walks of life to discuss them. It allows for everyone to hear and to be heard concerning different matters. An example would be of the #MenAreTrash campaign. The hashtag allowed for in-depth discussions of how patriarchy and women abuse have affected different societies.

4. Hashtags draw attention

So initially, I never got how effective the hashtag was. In fact, at some point I was very much annoyed by the fact that something like “Michelle Obama tweets about #BringBackOurGirls” had become news worthy. I felt like that was a useless way of helping, especially when ‘powerful’ people used it instead of taking more productive measures. But then again, I’m one of those late comers when it comes to joining social media platforms so I really had no idea what that meant essentially. However, now I realise how hashtags can be used to draw the attention of relevant authorities or organisations and/or people that are able to assist in specific matters. So basically, hashtags can be used as a faster way of getting an outcry heard (thanks to social media). A good local example would be #thisflag , I’m sure I don’t need to say much on that one…

5. Hashtags raise awareness

If you see something too many things there are two things involved; its either it will annoy you or it will get you interested. Hashtags have a tendency of leaning towards the latter. Even if you didn’t care, seeing it enough times will make you research, and as such hashtags are often used to raise awareness. We see this function to be mostly associated with events or promotions. Many at times at events, free wifi and sometimes incentives are provided for people to flood social media with their branded hashtags. So if you are one of those who thought event organisers were just being nice by providing free wifi, sorry! Of course there’s an end game. I know pretty soon we will be asking people to flood twitter and other social networks with our own #BroadbandEconomy for the event we are hosting on the 20th of this month. (and yes, we would love you to start now!)

6. Hashtags summarise long text into simple phrases

Hashtags allow people to express themselves differently but still make it easy for other readers to know or relate to what they are talking about. Considering how people are not too keen to read long texts, hashtags make it easy for you to give a background story in a few letters. I’ll give a simple example of a typical tweet: Home has become too close! #kombiwifi without the hashtag we would have thought of a hundred other reasons why home can become too close for anyone. But if the hashtag is already known to represent Econet’s Kombi wifi, then there’s not need for further explanations or for trying to put it in a way that makes everyone understand what they mean from scratch which often limits expression.

And finally on my list…

7. Hashtags never die

For as long as the topic or theme still exists, the hashtag can continuously be used even through the different phases of the issue’s existence. Hashtags are often specific to avoid ambiguity but are also general enough to cater for broad usage. However, this is often different when it comes to events hence event hashtags often have a year e.g. #DF2017. However, other hashtags such as #DataMustFall will always be in existence (well, for as long as data is expensive) and can apply to any situation involving any of the MNOs and at any particular time as long as it has to do with data or its pricing