“What is a hashtag?” has become easily the most common question I hear from people after mentioning that I am a Twitter user. It seems shocking to me how many people still have no clue about what Twitter is considering how many people are tweeting daily- even hourly. But I have yet to come up with a sufficient answer for them that doesn’t leave the same puzzled looks on their faces.
It seems like Twitter has been around forever by now, especially since I feel like I was so late to the party. I too am still figuring everything out on the social network that people proclaim to be simple. When I really think about it, it’s pretty new. And it’s only incredibly recently that it has become the massive interactive platform for television programming that it is. As an avid TV consumer, this is something I’ve been noticing more and more since the beginning of the summer. All of a sudden I’m seeing Twitter all over TV and it seems that “hashtags” are changing the way we watch TV.
It took me years to convince people that I’m an active TV watcher (as opposed to a couch potato). Now, passive watching is a thing of the past, as TV shows try to compel viewers to join the conversation about their favorite television shows both while they are watching and in the weeks and months between new episodes.
The most prominent use of hashtags has become the little hashtags that appear on the screens during television programs and events. If you’ve recently watched a show on the USA Network, for example, you will probably have noticed the pop-ups in the lower thirds asking you what you think of what is happening in real time and supplying you with a hashtag to talk to other viewers about it. I think this is a brilliant way of not only engaging viewers, but getting them to watch the shows in real-time, which means they are also watching commercials rather than just skipping through their recordings.
Hashtags have also been used to promote new tv shows, which is especially important this time of year during all of the new fall premieres. I commute into the city several times a week and there are very few promotional television posters in the subway stations that do not feature a hashtag. This summer’s The Glee Project had the hashtag #believe on every billboard, bus and television spot, but they started using #gleeproject when they realized it was a far more popular tag. The new season of ABC’s Happy Endings features a hashtag in its commercials as well. All of this to promote going online and participating in your tv watching experience.
The last noticeable hashtag presence has been on late night and news programs. Jimmy Fallon has famously begun his #latenight hashtags segment, where he prompts readers to tweet about something and then reads some of the funnier tweets on the air. News programs have started using tags to gauge viewers’ opinions and formulate makeshift polls.
With the introduction of google + to the social networking scene, many bloggers and experts have been saying that a simple, singularly focused application like Twitter will soon become a thing of the past (just google ‘Twitter is too simple…). But it seems to me that people are only now gaining a knowledge of all of the things they can use Twitter for, and it will still be around for quite some time.