How to Explain a Hashtag to Social Media Challenged Human Beings


A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my parents when my excessive use of Instagram prompted a meal-long conversation consisting of me attempting to explain the importance of a hashtag to my two, 60 year old parents. (Sorry mom, I had to round up for the sake of simplicity). To give you some background, one of them is still a proud flip-phone user, and the other likes to form a collection of the latest generation of iPads and use it as an alarm to wake up from his 3 pm naps. I know, I’m making aging sound really appealing.

I tried multiple ways of describing what a hashtag is, including whipping out the table napkin and pen. All of these attempts failed, and eventually I resorted to googling, “How to explain a hashtag to old people”. ‘Google never lets me down’, I thought.

One of the first articles that popped up from writes, “A hashtag is a label for content. It helps others who are interested in a certain topic, quickly find content on that same topic.” Easy! Right? No luck. “So no ones going to see my picture if I don’t use a…what do you call it? Why do I want people to see my pictures anyways!” mom contested. My Dad and I exchanged that “it’s time for another beer look”. Can you tell which one’s the avid flip-phone user? I think i’ve got half the team on board.

Anyone sharing content on a relevant topic can add a hashtag label [without spaces] to their post. Others searching for that topic, can search for that label to find other messages on that same social media platform, increasing dialogue and awareness about a certain topic.

“Mom, it’s like a sign at the end of a book shelf in the library that tells you the call number. All of the people who want to read more about a certain topic can all meet at that book shelf, and discuss a certain topic. From there, you can form book clubs and via word of mouth, more and more people can join your book club and chime into the conversation.” ‘BINGO,’ I thought.

“So I can hashtag anything?” Uh oh, I’ve just created a monster. I explained that a hashtag should be unique and searchable. For example if you wanted to find other people engaging in conversations about the best food in Eugene, a quick Twitter search would show you that #EugeneFoodie is a commonly used hashtag, and could give you more up-to-date information about events and happy hour specials than Google might. This got her attention.

We ended the night by creating a Twitter account for my mom, while my dad mentally prepared himself for which iPad he was going to give up for adoption. Now that almost a month has gone by, I am happy to report that mom is now an avid iPad user, and while she hasn’t quite grasped the full potential of the hashtag, she has managed to change her Twitter avatar. Baby steps, right?

Next time you’re sitting at a table of social-media challenged human beings, I hope this article finds you well. #IveCreatedAMonster

Taylor Horn

MKTG 199


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