What is a Hashtag and How Do I Use it? | Boomer Web School

Making Sense of #Hashtags

Learn what a hashtag is and how to use it effectively in social media.

When you’re looking at a post on social media, you may see words preceded by a “#” sign, like #Olympics in this case:

The person who created the post has added a hashtag, which categorizes the post. Clicking on a hashtag will allow you to find other posts that were created with the same hashtag. Hashtags are popular because they allow you to join in on the conversation in real time.

However, since anyone can create a post, and anyone can type a word preceded with a “#” symbol, there are many hashtags out there that are confusing and misused. When hashtags are used properly however, they make social media much more useful, allowing you to further explore new content, connect with people with similar interests, and find new brands that they hope will lead to a purchase. 

Hashtags are used mostly on social media sites. The name comes from the “#” symbol, which is referred to has a “pound” sign in the U.S, and referred to as a “hash” symbol in other parts of the world.  They were made popular in 2009 due to their use in Twitter as a home-grown way for users to categorize their information. Hashtags are also used on Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook, although use of the hashtag on Facebook hasn’t really caught on. 

How Hashtags Work

  • When you’re creating a post, simply type a “#’ sign in front of any word or phrase that categorizes your content. For example, #olympics.
  • Other people can then click on that hashtag and see your post as well as everyone else’s posts with the same hashtag. You can also search for #olympics to find all posts.
  • There is no pre-defined list of hashtags. Anyone can create a brand new hashtag simply by putting the hash before a series of words.
  • As you’re typing, you’ll likely see a dropdown of variations on the hashtag, including the number of times it’s been used. 

It’s up to you to decide how generic or specific you get with your hashtag when creating content. 

  • The hashtag #olympics has millions of posts. 
  • #pyeongchang has hundreds of thousands, including posts that have nothing to do with the olympics. 
  • #olympicmedal will has 5,000 posts that show proud athletes with their awards.

You can create clever hashtags that add context, humor or sarcasm, but don’t use too many hashtags in a post or the usefulness is lost. 
Also, don’t use hashtags that are too generic, like #nice. They make you look like a hashtag #amateur.

Don't do this:

Common Uses

  • Some hashtags are more commonly used that others, like #tbt (throw back thursday), #nofilter (a picture with no editing), and #foodporn (really sexy food photos). 
  • Businesses and brands create special hashtags and instruct their followers to use them, like #Wheretogo (Uber), #RealBeauty (Dove), or #winterparkresort (local resort). 
  • Hashtags are also used to identify events, like #2018olympics, #solareclipse or #joneswedding.


Rules to Follow

No Spaces

  • If your hashtag contains multiple words, group them all together. The hashtag ends when a space is detected.
  • Typing #throw back thursday, will result in a hashtag of “throw”.
  • Type #throwbackthursday, or #ThrowbackThursday. Capitals are ignored, so both examples will yield the same result.

No Preceding Characters

  • The ‘#” symbol must have a space directly in front of it.
  • Typing this#throwbackthursday or heresmy#throwbackthursday will not be recognized as a hashtag. 
  • Here’s my #throwbackthursday will be recognized.

No Punctuation

  • Your hashtag will end when punctuation is detected, so don’t use punctuation or special characters. 
  • Typing #it’sthrowbackthursday will use the hashtag of #it.
  • You can use numbers, however, you need to use at least one letter in a hashtag. 


@ Sign is Different

  • Keep in mind that the @ symbol does something completely different. Using @ before a person’s name (or handle) will message the person directly. 
  • Typing "I love @jimmyfallon” sends a direct message to Jimmy Fallon’s account. In twitter, they’ll find the post in the @connect tab. In Instagram, your post will show up in direct messages. 
  • Typing “I love #jimmyfallon” added your post to all other posts created with the #jimmyfallon hashtag.
  • NOTE - If you are trying to reach someone directly, don’t use a hashtag.


You should now have a better understanding of hashtags and how to use them to make social media more effective. Hesitant to start using hashtags? Start by clicking on hashtags. You'll quickly spot those that are effective, and more importanly, those that aren't. 

If you like this type of information, consider continuing your learning with our 10-Week iPhone Challenge.