Hashtags? Number Symbol? Pound Sign? What does it all mean?

An in-depth look into the evolution of the number symbol into a global search tool.

June 22, 2022 | Shaina Hall

Not Just a Pseudo Tick Tac Toe Board Anymore

There was once a time when this symbol (#) was called simply a pound or number sign. The “#” symbol rose to popularity in the days of telephones that had an actual keypad to interrupt an automated machine on the other end of a phone call. Although this was not the formal beginning of the life of the symbol, (the “#” symbol has humble beginnings traced all the way back to the 17th or 18th century Latin language) the current usage of this ambiguous symbol has amassed global recognition as a necessary search tool.

How exactly did its current inception come to be? Well, legend has it all the way back in 2007, San Francisco-based techie and former Google developer Chris Messina sent out a tweet on Twitter simply asking, “How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” Like many new ideas, Messina’s latest trick of the trade was dismissed by many in the tech community, including the Twitter platform itself.

So why did he choose the “#” symbol? Well, the number sign was an easy keyboard character to get to on the phone he was using at the time. It also helped that the symbol was already being used in other internet chat systems.

The “pound/number” sign evolved a couple of days later when another techie by the name of Stowe Boyd made the suggestion the symbol should be named “hashtag” because it simply sounded catchier. During the 2007 San Diego fire, people were using the tracking system implemented by Twitter but the spaces between the words San, Diego, and fire made it nearly impossible to track successfully. With that, Messina suggested using the hashtag plus a few words with no spaces.

Thus, the birth of the hashtag search tool finally came to fruition.

Figure 1 The evolution of the pound sign. L to R, clockwise: vintage telephone, Twitter icon, LB as written by Isaac Newton, Tic Tac Toe board.

How to Make the Hashtag Work for You

Using the hashtag feature in your business marketing campaign has proven to be an effective method of expanding marketing exposure and visibility. Even with this marketing tool being as helpful as it is, it should be no surprise there are drawbacks to using hashtags the wrong way.

How Does the Hashtag Work?

Hashtags are marketing tools that are instrumental in your content being found and driving traffic to your site. In determining what hashtags, you should use for your branding, look to the current influencers – the professional “hash taggers” for inspiration! See what they’re using to gain visibility and followers, why it works, and how their method can work for you. One of the primary functions of hashtags is to indicate to users and the algorithm that your content is relevant to the researched topic at hand.

Don’t Overdo It!

More often than not, people make the assumption that if they use more hashtags, whatever they are trying to promote, will receive more exposure. However, the exact opposite is likely to happen. When writing a social media piece, try not to use a hashtag every couple of words. In most cases, keep it between 1 – 3 hashtags total for the most effective usage. In this case, less is definitely best!

I know, it feels like in order to gain a following or attention, it is necessary to use as many hashtags for visibility as you possibly can. No! Stop it right now! #usingtoomany #hashtags #inyoursocialmediaposts #cancomeacross #asunprofessional #inexperienced #andsometimesdownright #tacky

When you’re utilizing hashtags for your marketing strategy, you want to make sure what you’re using is strategically placed where they will add value and stimulate interaction.

The rule of thumb is generally on each social media platform, you want to use no more than three hashtags per post with exception of Instagram which you can tactfully use between 10 and 11 or really as many as you’d like to gain exposure and followers.

Keep it Short!

Just like when you dreaded your assignment to read that 500-page book in high school, viewers err on the side of dread when they see super long hashtags. #youmightgetlostiftherearetoomanywords

See what I did there? To successfully execute the proper usage of hashtags, you want to stick to the idea of your message being short, sweet, and memorable. When you use too many words, you inevitably run the risk of not being found when your topic is being researched by others. Keep it short and to the point!

Keep it Relevant.

Sometimes it is nice to be different and come up with your own lingo; however, in the world of hashtags and marketing, it is grossly inefficient. When using hashtags, you want to go with words or short phrases that people will actually be searching. Hashtags that are too broad will not benefit your marketing strategy since they may not be found.

If you want to make hashtags work hard for you, make sure they’re specific to the topic you want to be researched. Hashtags are especially effective if you want to research the competition to see what they’re doing or just to uncover content that is relevant to your presented topics!

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