History of the #Hashtag: How the Symbol Revolutionized Social Media

Ten years ago the term ‘hashtag’ did not exist. Originally referred to as a pound sign or number sign, hashtag is a recent nickname. Now it is one of the most recognized trends on social media. It has become a part of pop culture. So how did it all begin? What is the history of the hashtag?

Today the hashtag is a tool for users and companies alike to connect thought topics and themes on social media. They allow ideas to gain popularity by unifying groups of thought. Although hashtags are found on almost every social media site today, it began with one tweet on Twitter. The origins of its use in social media trace back to August 23, 2007 when one Chris Messina asked a simple question:


Where it All Began

The first use of the hashtag was in the 1990’s in Internet Relay Chatrooms. It was for grouping messages into categories, much like it is today. However, the symbol was not coined a hashtag until later. Flash forward ten year and Chris Messina posts on twitter an idea. He proposed using the pound sign to collect common ideas. Messina’s interest was to have “a better eavesdropping experience on Twitter”.

Soon after a blogger named Stowe Boyd posted about the tweet, and referred to the use of the pound sign as a hashtag. Boyd explained the symbol was to help “make sense of the noise within Twitter”. Boyd explained how it could help define “shared experience[s] of some kind, involving all those using the tag”. The hashtag did not gain its popularity until users on twitter recognized its potential. In fact, when Messina brought the idea of the hashtag up to Twitter, they shot him down. Twitter told him they didn’t think anyone would ever use the symbol, saying they were for “nerds”.

A #GrowingInterest

Thankfully Messina ignored Twitters advice and kept using the hashtag. In 2013, Adweek reported that 75% of social media users use hashtags. Today, social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest all utilize hashtags. The power of united ideas under hashtags have created communities of ideas. The hashtag has become so wildly used in pop culture Twitter has a “trending now” page where users can track the most frequently used hashtags worldwide or nationwide. These hashtags have ranged from #HappyBirthdayJustinBieber to #Googleit.

The Hashtag Today

The power of the hashtag is undeniable today. Not only is it utilized by the general public but businesses and government officials have ‘hashtagged’ their ideas into popularity. On company that has seen immense success with their hashtag campaign is Calvin Klein. In February of 2014 the company released its #MyCalvins campaign. Users quickly began posting pictures and messages with the hashtag. Not only did the hashtag gain popularity and create awareness, the photos were also free advertising for the company. As a result of the campaign, the company’s social media reach nearly tripled:


Today the hashtag is way for people around the world to connect with one another. By creating networks within social media networks, the hashtag has created small communities of thought where ideas and opinions are expressed. Not only is the idea marketable, it has the power to create change and spread information. We take the hashtag for granite. In conclusion, it’s time we recognize how #blessed we are for having such a unifying symbol.