New Publication on Hashtags (Psychology and Marketing)

Our study on the meanings of hashtags on social media has finally been published! Based on the results of six empirical studies, we explain why people use hashtags! Spoiler: It’s not just about structuring content or generating reach!


A lot of peole are using hashtags on social media, and one would assume they do so to structure their content. For example, a student tweeting about Universität der Bundeswehr might include #unibw in a posting. Our study shows that this “structuring content” motivation is only one reason why people hashtag. However, there are nine additional motivations. In six empirical studies, we surveyed and interviewed more than 1,100 consumers. Download link will follow.

Hashtag Study Download

The Meanings of Hashtags

The abstract of the paper reads as follows:

Hashtags (i.e., the # symbol) are gaining increased popularity among social media users. However, despite their intense use, little is known about their meanings. Only a few published studies have investigated fragmented aspects of hashtags and treated them as a functional means to structure content. In this study, we provide evidence that hashtags’ meanings go beyond structuring or spreading content and represent an integral element of contemporary communication via social media. In particular, this research presents a series of six empirical studies, following traditions in grounded theory and measurement theory research, to systematically assess motivations for using hashtags. The results uncover the existence of 10 different motivations for use (amusing, organizing, designing, conforming, trendgaging, bonding, inspiring, reaching, summarizing, and endorsing). In addition, we show how these motivations differ between platforms and also relate to different patterns of social media behavior. The results contribute to a better academic understanding of social media, provide managers with profound insights and can guide marketing tactics with hashtags.


Motivations to Hashtag: Overview

The following table is taken from our paper and summarizes the questionnaire items for the new scale we developped. Respondents were asked to rate their agreement on a scale from 1 = totally disagree to 7 = totally agree. In the paper, we report the results of the confirmatory factor analyses in more detail. Spoiler: Everything worked out very well!

Hashtag Motivation No. 1: Amusing
…provide comedic value to my friends / followers on social media
…be funny by using entertaining words in hashtags
…entertain my friends with hilarious hashtags
…make my followers on social media smile
…highlight funny words
Hashtag Motivation No. 2: Organizing
…show related topics
…refer to other areas that are linked to the topic of my posting
…organize postings around topics (e.g., events, places)
…structure my content
Hashtag Motivation No. 3: Designing
…make postings look unique
…make a posting more visually appealing
…create my own style of my postings
…give a posting more character
Hashtag Motivation No. 4: Conforming
…post in a similar style my friends do
…match my posting style of people I respect
…meet the “standards” how postings look on this social media platform
… mimic the posting style of people who are close to me
Hashtag Motivation No. 5: Trendgaging
…be associated with trending topics
…share my view on certain topics publicly
…show how I contribute to up-to-date topics
…join conversations on a specific topic
Hashtag Motivation No. 6: Bonding
…spread “insiders” that only friends and me understand
…refer to topics that only my friends can understand
…”connect” with my friends by using “our internal” language as hashtags
Hashtag Motivation No. 7: Inspiring
…encourage people to think about the meanings of my posts
…motivate people to decipher the hidden meaning of my posts
…stimulate other people’s thinking about what I want to express with my postings
Hashtag Motivation No. 8: Reaching
…spread a message to a specific audience of people interested in the topic of the hashtag
…reach relevant audiences
…reach people interested in a specific topic
Hashtag Motivation No. 9: Summarizing
…mirror the content of my postings
…emphasize the main message of a posting
…reflect what my postings mean
Hashtag Motivation No. 10: Endorsing
…emphasize a certain event, thing, or people
…support people or brands I like
…to endorse interesting things or topics

Hashtag Differences between Platforms

The following figure is based on the numbers reported in the paper. It shows the differences in Hashtagging use accross different platforms. We used Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


Meaning of Social Media Hashtags

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