In the 1990s, nothing was more exciting than signing onto your AOL account and joining a chat room with people you may or may not have known to discuss everything from sports to movies to what happened on the newest episode of Friends last night.
Although the pop-up chat room of the past has significantly, if not totally, died out, the concept has not. It is constantly changing along with our changing social media outlets and has basically transformed to a new genre of social media: Twitter. Our screen names of the past changed to Twitter handles and our chat rooms are now hashtags.
The concept of Twitter is simple: users have a maximum of 140 characters to tell their followers how they are feeling or what they are doing at that very moment. One of the features of a tweet is a hashtag, which is essentially a keyword that sticks your tweet into that specific category.
For example, on July 7, I tweeted “pretty sure I’m more excited for the #olympics than I am for my birthday.” Once I sent that into the twitterverse, “#olympics” turned into a hyperlink, which means my followers could click on it and see every other tweet discussing the olympics, thus creating a chat room atmosphere among the twitter feed.
Reality shows have also begun using hashtags as a way to encourage viewers to join the conversation. For example, the reality show Big Brother will sporadically flash a hashtag at the bottom of the screen for users to discuss the previous moment with each other on twitter. While watching the episode, you could tweet and use the hashtag #bigbrother and everyone tweeting using the same hashtag will be able to see what you wrote and tweet back at you.
TV shows began using hashtags as a way to convince viewers to watch in real time, instead of setting up their DVRs to save for later. Kerry Jones explains this new phenomenon on Blueglass.com by simply stating “with on-screen hashtags, networks are tapping into existing conversations.” Most shows have an official hashtag so the networks can track the conversation. The hashtag is usually placed subtly in a corner so as not to annoy or distract the viewer.
According to a survey by Yahoo and Nielsen, “86% of mobile phone owners use their phones while watching TV, and 40% are browsing or updating social networking sites.” As our social media usage rises, so does our ability to multitask.
When Comedy Central hosted their roast of hotel tycoon Donald Trump, around 27,000 used the hashtag #TrumpRoast in only one hour, thus jumpstarting the use of hashtags in real time television.
On April 29, 2011, the Royal wedding gained worldwide attention and CNN lured viewers to watch on their network by promoting the hashtag #CNNTV and picking random tweets to run on a crawl at the bottom of the screen throughout the broadcast. During the wedding, around 250 tweets rolled in per minute.
While hashtags began appearing in major awards shows and sporting events, their popularity is steadily increasing and they are finding their way onto primetime television shows and onto millions of living room TV screens.
It’s a social web – don’t forget to share and comment.
Hillary Weiss is a digital media enthusiast with a passion for journalistic writing. She has a love of social media and all things pop culture. You can follow her on twitter @HillaryWeiss1