First came ‘#’ and the ‘# key’. A familiar button for those of us on conference calls. The ‘hashtag’ itself made its entrance around 2007 when users of Twitter and other social media websites became familiar with its use. Those who are familiar with hashtags will be aware that they’re more than just a word with a grid-like symbol in front of it. Hashtags have power. What started as a way to organize online conversation topics has become a global phenomenon – a tool for generating social awareness, and the ability to spark a social movement.
‘Hashtag activism’ is a growing trend, with words and movements gaining power and traction with the help of the hashtag. They enable people to unify around a common goal and to promote awareness of an issue. A fundraising campaign for the #IceBucketChallenge became a viral sensation, not to mention the $15.6 million raised for the ALS Association.
But can the hashtag actually bring meaningful change? You can hashtag all you like, but who cares – what does it achieve?
Some would argue that awareness is really the main outcome. But the benefits are wider than just that. Hashtags can promote a conversation that might not be had otherwise. In some cases they might create a desire to learn more, do more, and get more involved. I think most people will agree that’s a good thing.