We’re living in a hashtagged world but somewhere, somehow, the hashtag lost its way. When they first appeared on Twitter, we didn’t exactly know what to do with them. Then about the time they really caught on, they began to be abused. (#canigetawitness) Facebook added them and most of the social media savvy shook their heads (#SMH) at the notion. Instagrammers add dozens of hashtags to their photos so that they appear in every conceivable feed. And then there’s Jimmy and Justin with their infamous #hashtag skit. (#LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL) Who could ever take a hashtag seriously after all that?
I admit, I’ve recently become a little jaded when it comes to hashtags. Many of the hashtags I encounter in my social feeds are either so completely random or so obviously promotional that my eyes glaze over and I move on to the next post. Of course I still use hashtags, but I do so ironically. I’m a hashtag hipster like that. (#notreally) But in the right circumstances, hashtags can not only be effective, they can bring people together in unexpected ways. I was lucky enough to recently experience this first hand and it was utterly delightful.
My husband sings in a barbershop quartet. (#yesreally) There is a whole society, international society actually, formed around the hobby of singing in the barbershop style. Every summer, thousands of barbershoppers from around the world come together for a convention and singing contest. For those who can’t make the trek, there is a webcast that can be viewed of the singing contest.
A few years ago, the society started designating a hashtag for the convention. The convention hashtags have never trended and they are still somewhat of a mystery to a large percentage of the society members; but for those who do use them they have become a link between the convention and the ones watching at home. Last week my husband jetted off to Las Vegas to compete with his quartet. I was unable to join him so I tuned into the webcast to watch him to sing and I also pulled up the the convention hashtag on Twitter to follow along and see what others thought about the contest.
Now, I’ve followed convention hashtags before. When I can’t be at a social media conference and also when I am attending them, I set up a column on Hootsuite with the hashtag. Those hashtag feeds are great for following along with session content, finding out where things are taking place, and rounding up people to have dinner with. This is by far my favorite use of a hashtag, bringing people together for a common cause. And that’s exactly what occurred while I followed the barbershop convention hashtag. We cheered on our favorites and congratulated those who blew everyone’s socks off. We joked and bantered, favorited and retweeted. And while nothing can replace the thrill of being in an audience when your husband’s quartet receives thunderous applause and cheers, seeing positive reactions via tweets in a hashtag stream is an acceptable alternative.
Love them or hate them, hashtags are not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m sure I will still find myself rolling my eyes at hashtag misuse. But if they continue to do their best work by rallying people around a shared experience, then I say, “Long live the hashtag!”
Hashtag Photo Credit: theolaphoto on Flickr, Creative Commons