The Photographer’s Guide to #hashtags

The Photographer’s Guide to #hashtags

Don’t get the whole hashtag thing? Don’t fear, PhotoShelter is here to help.

Weird Al uses hashtags, and you can too!

Weird Al uses hashtags, and you can too!

A hashtag is a way to delineate important keywords from descriptive text. For the metadata inclined, it’s sort of like combining IPTC Description and IPTC keywords into a single field, and using the “#” symbol to identify keywords. The contemporary usage was  articulated by software researcher Stowe Boyd in a blog entitled “Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings” in 2007 (It’s a much more thoughtful piece than you might initially believe). Because of its viral adoption on the the site, Twitter started hyperlinking hashtags in 2009, and other social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Vine followed suit turning the words into a hyperlinked discovery mechanism.

Boyd sought to find a way to allow communities to self aggregate without explicitly joining a group. He found the approach of inviting, owning and managing a group to be cumbersome and not suited for “serendipity.” Need an easy way to find other selfies on Instagram?

  • #selfie
  • #felfie (farmer selfies)
  • #helfie (hair selfies)
  • #bookshelfie (people with their books selfie)

By simply tagging your image – from general to highly specific – you’re instantly connected with a community.

Hashtags have gained popularity with the increased usage as portmanteaus – combining words into a single word – often in humorous/ironic ways or to highlight a salient issue. Consider:

  • #nofilter
  • #photooftheday
  • #follow4follow
  • #sorrynotsorry
  • #ilovephoto
  • #bringbackourgirls

Like URLs, init capitalization (aka CamelCase) can be used to increase the legibility of the portmanteau without affecting its searchability (hashtags are case insensitive).

  • #DontHateThePlayerHateTheGame
  • #ThingsWhitePeopleSay
  • #AskThicke

Abbreviations are also popular:

  • #tbt (throw back thursday)
  • #fml (f*ck my life)
  • #ootd (outfit of the day)
  • #td4w (turn down for what?)

You can create your own portmanteaus, but the longer the phrase, the more unlikely it is to be found. Reserve long portmanteaus for your best one-liners, instead of relying on them for discovery.

Don’t over-hashtag. Two or three is more than enough. More than that, and you could risk losing followers. Hashtags should be used to categorize, emphasize, or humorize specific words in a post. #knowwutimean #totes

But really, all this information pales in comparison to getting it straight from two social media queens. #urwelcome

Download our latest guideThe Photographer’s Guide to Instagram to put your newfound knowledge to work.


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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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