What Does 'Hashtag' Mean & How Do You Use One Correctly?

What You Need to Know to Use Hashtags Correctly

Image of a cell phone showing a hashtag symbol.
Hashtags make it easier to find the conversations you want to follow. Jeffrey Coolidge / Getty Images

Definition of Hashtags

Hashtags used to categorize content and track topics on Twitter and other social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.

When you use hashtags, you help people who are interested in your topic find your posts and Tweets.

How to Use Hashtags in Your Posts:

You add hashtags to your Tweets, Pins, or Facebook posts by using the number sign, #, and a word that defines the Tweet's topic.

For example, #sweepstakes or #thebalance.

Don't use any spaces in your hashtag; if you need to use more than one word, simply run them together. If it's hard to read the meaning of the phrase with the words running together, you can capitalize each word. For example, #androidgames and #ElectionNight are examples of popular multi-word hashtags.

How do you decide which hashtags to use? Well, you can come up with your own, or use hashtags that you've seen other people put in their posts. If you'd like some inspiration, Hashtags.org lists hashtags that are currently popular (trending) on Twitter.

Hashtags don't have to be about a topic; they can also encapsulate a mood in your post. For example, if you post about winning a prize, you could use the hashtags #soexcited and #lovewinning!

You can include more than one hashtag in your Tweet, if appropriate, but beware of using too many hashtags per post.

Once you get to three or more, or when your post becomes more hashtags than text, your tag use begins to look spammy and may turn off your readers.

You can insert a hashtag at the beginning, middle, or end of your post. Here's an example of a Tweet with a hashtag in the body of the message:

Confused by #Twitter slang? "Twitter Terms for Beginners" explains all of the jargon you need to know: 

In the example above, "#Twitter" is a hashtag.

Here's an example of a Tweet with a hashtag at the end:

Oooh, my lucky day! I just won a $100 instant prize! #sweepstakes

Hashtags are also known as #, tags, hash symbols, and hashes. There is an alternate spelling: hash tags.

Tip: For a funny take on hashtags and how it would sound if people used them when they talked like they do when they Tweet, watch this hashtag sketch by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.

Hashtag History

Hashtags didn't start with Twitter, but social media platforms have made them wildly popular. Hashes were used in programming languages and in IRC chat for decades before Twitter user FactoryJoe suggested them in the 2007 Tweet: "how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?"

It took another two years for Twitter to take the suggestion to heart, according to this article from AdWeek. In 2009, Twitter began linking hashtags to make them searchable with a single click.

The next year, Twitter used hashtags to identify Trending Topics, which they posted on their home page.

As hashtags became more popular, other social media sites started to pick them up as well. You can find hashtags on Google Plus, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and more.

Why Do People Use Hashtags in Their Posts?

With Twitter, in particular, it can be hard to find the posts you want to read and the people who discuss topics that interest you. There are so many Tweets being posted at any given time that wading through them is difficult!

Hashtags help solve that problem by making it easy to search for Tweets with hashtags that are interesting to you.

Some hashtags that sweepstakes fans might enjoy include:

  • #sweepstakes
  • #win
  • #contests
  • #giveaway

If you search Twitter for those hashtags, you will receive a list of all of the recent posts people have made on those subjects. This is an excellent way to find new social media contests to enter which is important since many Twitter giveaways have a very short entry period.

If you use a Twitter client like TweetDeck, you can set up permanent searches for topics that interest you, so that you have a constantly updated source of information.

In some social media clients, you can also mute specific hashtags. So if you are sick of hearing about #sports or the #grexit, you can easily skip those posts in your feed.

Using Hashtags to Enter Twitter Contests

Many Twitter sweepstakes use hashtags to identify entries. You may be asked to answer a question, give an opinion, or share a story, followed by a specific hashtag to enter.

Here's an example of a hypothetical invitation to enter a Twitter sweepstakes using a hashtag:

Send a Tweet about your favorite summer memory followed by the hashtag #winningsummer to enter.

An entry into that sweepstakes might look like this:

My favorite summer memory is going to the state fair with my family when I was 5. I won a prize at ring toss! #winningsummer

Sponsors use the hashtags to find all of the entries into their giveaways. Just make sure you haven't set your Twitter profile to private, or the sponsors won't be able to see your entries.

Hashtag sweepstakes on Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media platforms work in a similar way.

More Information about Hashtags

What to know what @ means on Twitter, or Tweeple, or Twitter parties? Read my explanation of Twitter jargon.

Want to know even more about hashtags? The Twitter Expert shares the History of Hashtags.

If you'd like to start entering sweepstakes right now, check out my complete sweepstakes list.