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!).

There are a few ways they are used, and forgive this elder Millennial if I miss some of them!

  • Evolution of language online
    • #ImPuttingWordsTogetherBecauseIRock
  • Community
    • Show support or organize
  • Events
    • Most friends have custom hashtags for their weddings now. #WhatsTheHashtagForStillSingle

Let’s look a bit deeper, because you still may not really understand what they are. I promise by the end you’ll have at least a moderate grasp!

Hashtags Bring People Together

Protest

On one side, they are catchphrases akin to what you’d see on protest signage or hear repeated at a rally. #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and similar 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.

Hashtags Are Links

Link Icon

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.

Saving Hashtags and “Trending”

These special pages 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 #election2024 or #SeeminglyRanch.

Networked Earth

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.

Hashtags in Credit Unions

Credit Unions use them as well! In fact, I encourage them as part of your social media strategy.

One institution (Affinity FCU, no affiliation) has a hashtag campaign comparing big banks to “Fat Cats”. They write #FatCatFree on every tweet, image, or video shared. This literally unifies them into a single promotion.

I do a bit of hashtagging as well. (Is that a word? It is now.) 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.

If you follow that link or search #cugeek on Twitter, you’ll pull up each related post, past, present, and future, as they arrive. The systems also let you keep track of “topics” (what hashtags are called), so you can always return to a current feed.

Hashtags Are Powerful

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. They’re a powerful tool you can use to build your brand, community, and the credit union movement as a whole.

Unfortunately, since anyone can use it, they can also be subverted for other purposes. Knowing this, I’m all about finding unique phrases that hold interest only for your group (unlike #OpenYourEyes).

Please comment below with your favorite use of hashtags in your credit union!

#hashtagthisyoungpeople