Originally published on CUInsight.com

My parents still don’t understand the concept of a hashtag. If you’re reading this article, it’s possible you don’t, either. That’s ok, since I believe a lot of people are in the dark, yet feel if they asked, people would think them Luddites.

Hashtags, written like #this, have only loose historical comparison (if you think of one, please comment below!). On one side, they are catchphrases akin to what you’d see on protest signage or hear repeated at a rally. “Black Lives Matter” or “Yes We Can” are contemporary examples. Upon hearing or reading those phrases, you know exactly the issues being discussed. Those using them become virtual participants in a local, regional, or global exchange.

The other side of hashtags is what technology brings. On numerous social media services, from Instagram or Twitter to Snapchat or Facebook, you can add a “tag” to any post. In essence, that means you’re writing a phrase or word with the hash character attached (Ex. #myhashtagexample). It has no spaces, even if there are separate words. Here’s the cool part. When used on compatible services, they become links automatically. If you or anyone else clicks that link, they are brought to a page showing everyone else’s posts using that same hashtag phrase. Nowadays, these pages refresh real-time, meaning, new entries appear as they are written.

This special page with everyone’s “tagged” posts (or pictures, videos, links, etc.) can be bookmarked (it’s called a Saved Search) for later access or followed by others with a shared interest. Ever notice the little hashtag at the bottom corner of TV shows or news segments? I remember for the show 24, the tag was #JackIsBack. Breaking news stories may have #electionday14 or similar. If enough people use the tag in a region or within a timeframe, it can be considered a “Trending Topic”. This means the social media sites will further spread it to others to show the “heartbeat” of society at that very moment.

Credit Unions use them as well! I’ve been seeing one institution (Affinity FCU, no affiliation) promote a campaign comparing big banks to “Fat Cats”. They make sure to write #FatCatFree on every tweet, image, or video shared to unify them together into a single promotion.

For my blog, every post relating to a new entry or just something I feel would be of interest to readers is tagged with #cugeek. Search #cugeek on Twitter and you’ll easily pull up each related post, past, present, and future, as they arrive.

Technology can sometimes be overwhelming. Hashtags came into mainstream use so quickly I worry many people didn’t have a chance to understand what they were seeing. I hope this entry helps make sense of this new phenomenon. #hashtagthisyoungpeople