You may have seen posts on Facebook recently about how they have started supporting hashtags. If you don’t use Twitter or Instagram, you may be wondering what that means. Even if you looked up the definition of hashtag, that probably didn’t make it much clearer:

a word or a phrase prefixed with the symbol #

See what I mean? That’s all well and good, but why would anybody put a symbol at the beginning of a word? What’s it for?  Well, geeks have been doing it in Internet chat rooms for a least a decade. But most people agree that Twitter has been the reason for the growth in their popularity and usage in the last six years.

In August 2007, a Twitter user named Chris Messina was trying to figure out how to organize people into groups that he could keep track of by knowing what they were interested in, rather than knowing who they were. (Similar to the way we tag our photos on Flickr or our Friends on Facebook.) He suggested putting #, which some call a pound sign and others call a hash mark, before the word(s) that described common traits. They didn’t take long to catch on and become known as hashtags; only a couple of years later, Twitter made an upgrade to their system so that users could click any hashtag to be taken to the associated Twitter search results.

hashtag_longestday

Now we have something similar on Facebook. If you mark the beginning of any string of letters in a Facebook post with a #, it becomes a hashtag that, when clicked by one of your friends, opens a window that lists other Facebook posts — both public and from their friends — that use the same hashtag.

As an example, I clicked on #thelongestdayeac on a post from the European Alumnae Chapter and took a screen shot, which you can see on the right. It displays one of my own posts, a post from our vice president of membership, who is one of my Facebook friends, and a post from the EAC public page. (Note, you can tell by the little icon at the bottom whether the post is public or just for friends. Public posts have a little globe at the very bottom of the post; Friends-only posts have a little icon that looks like two people from the shoulders up.)

If you’re looking for ways to experiment with hashtags in your own posts, here are a few ideas:

  • celebrate our sorority, your chapter, or an SK gathering (e.g., #sigmakappa, #thetalambda, #skrlc)
  • indicate emotion associated with your facebook post (e.g., #fingerscrossed, #squee, #bummer)
  • charitable/issue groups (e.g., #thelongestday, #endalz, #ultraviolet)
  • trending news topics (e.g., #earthquake, #sandy, #iran, #syria)
  • other fun, silly or serious trends (e.g., #firstworldproblems, #sixwordmemoir, #mumtoldme, #endmalaria, #worldmalariaday)

The last kind is what I call a  single-use hashtag. They’re pretty long, made up of several words strung together. People often use them to make a point, convey an exaggerated emotion, or give a sort of punchline to a joke. Here’s my favorite example. It’s from Kevin Smith, who made the movies Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma. (Granted, it’s a Twitter hashtag, since Facebook doesn’t have as many examples of this category of hashtags to work from yet.)

One final, and important, note: if you do decide to use hashtags, please don’t forget these two cardinal rules:

1) NO SPACES (as soon as you hit the space bar, you’ve set the end of the hashtag)

2) NO PUNCTUATION (this is useful for grammar geeks, since it allows us to put a comma, period or even apostrophe-s after a hashtag without it being part of the hashtag)

Also remember that not everybody likes them. So keep an eye out for feedback. If you find your friends are getting annoyed, you might want to cut back. Or move over to Twitter or Instagram where people know that they’re better off quitting than complaining about hashtags.

*If you’ve read through this whole post only to find out what #FTW means, you’ve finally made it. FTW today commonly stands for “For the Win”. FTW is a type of cheer, or a strange way of exclaiming “this is the best” or “this item will make a big difference, I recommend using it”. Examples would include: “anti-lock braking, ftw!,” “spellchecker, ftw!,” and “low-carb diets, ftw!”  (ref: About.com)

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One Response to Facebook Hashtags #FTW*

  1. Anne says:

    I see them but apparently either they aren’t available yet or just don’t work unless your on a computer and since I’m on my phone or iPad they do me no good. :(

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