Until less than a decade ago, the symbol „#“ used to signify only a term related to phones or a sign for „sharp“ in musical notation system. Meanwhile, the perception has changed, and this simple symbol is one of the main tools of communication.This simple „#“ sign is not only a part of social media language, but also a part of everything we consume. It even changes the way the society writes and behaves since grammatically correct forms are no longer necessary today. According to research so far, short messages are 25% more interactive. Therefore, in order to send and receive messages, we do not need to use whole sentences, but only images and hashtag symbols, which confirms the visual effect domination. Nowadays, even the TV channels use hashtag to attract more viewers, widen the audience and distribute information much faster. Speed and simplicity are built in the new „hashtag culture“. Hashtag has developed from a simple social communication into a popular cultural phenomenon in a very short period of time.
This trend is only a different way of using the Internet and just another possibility for posting the aimed personal content. It is possible that one day a specific obsession for hashtag as such will disappear, but until then it will continue to grow incredibly fast. The future of communication based on information technology is uncertain, because the possibilities are infinite, and the speed of development is unknown. The things that made hashtag the essential part of communication with audience in modern society are number of hashtags, number of social network users, an easy possibility to create contents that the whole world can access, mobile communication (with 80% of users of Twitter or even Instagram on mobile platforms), TV shows and advertising campaigns. This proves that a thing which started as entertainment became a part of popular culture of the modern society.
This is the age of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. In the last five years, their popularity has grown so much that people from all branches use them, including Hollywood celebrities, famous musicians, politicians, and writers, who chose social networks as their basic means of communication.Twitter enables its users to connect to thousands, or even millions of people at a global level, by using short messages with up to 140 characters, increasing the limit to 10,000 characters in the near future, which would change the way of communication on the social network. The world entertainment stage has accepted Twitter as means of presenting opinions and attitudes, thus providing the audience with exclusive news directly from the source. Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey, US President Barack Obama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the first celebrities who started using Twitter for sending quick messages and connecting with their audience. Therefore, Twitter was supported by the world famous singers, actors and presidents, and it became a particular spot for finding information, but also a popular culture phenomenon of with 284 million active users, and 500 million posts a day. The pop-culture adoption of hashtags helped push hashtags into other social networks. Instagram adopted hashtags on January 27, 2011 and Facebook finally adopted hashtags on June 12, 2013. The hashtag brought more than just attention, it gave even a list of people who actually engaged with someone`s story and brand. Hashtags have become more than just a simple way to categorize posts or add a narrative to the story behind.
The purpose of this work is not to research the use of hash character in daily communication and its transformation into information source, which changed the traditional forms of communications. The aim of the research is to analyse the frequency, the way and the occasions in which the character is used and to define the role of hashtag in popular culture.The object of this research is to understand the use of hashtag character in daily communication, trend setting and creation of popular contents.Until less than a decade ago, the hash symbol “#” used to signify only a term related to phones or a sign for “sharp” in musical notation system. Meanwhile, the perception has changed, and this simple symbol now represents one of the main tools of communication, which has become a phenomenon of popular culture, online communication is no longer possible without it, and it has also been spreading within communication outside social networks.
The research of hashtag as popular culture phenomenon and its use in daily communication has included the following:
Primary research: Conversation/interviews with people in Serbia who are followed by a significant number of social network users (more than 5,000), and are therefore responsible for management of online contents of their own or their clients’; Quantitative analysis by tools such as Topsy and Tvitni.me which analyse communication results on Twitter social network with the analysis of hashtag characters and key words;
Secondary research: The review which includes websites research, newspaper articles and blogs related to the use of hashtag character.
DIGITAL COMMUNICATION WORLDWIDE AND IN SERBIA
According to Merriam Webster`s Dictionary, social networks are „a kind of electronic communication (websites for social networking and microblogging) through which the users make online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other contents (such as videos)” .Social networks are also defined as virtual, online communities which connect people who might share similar interests or activities, regardless of their location. They are interactive online services which provide pages with basic personal information, contact lists of people users can communicate with and exchange information publicly, for certain public only or in a private communication. As far as the number of users is concerned, the most popular social networks are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
In 2015 the most popular social network, Facebook, has reached more than a billion users in the world, 3.4 million of which are in Serbia. The next one is Twitter, which is classified as a part of microblogs subgroup, but definitely a social network, since the communication on Twitter has become very interactive and is often in a form of a dialogue, due to status or posts which can contain a maximum of 140 characters. Facebook was started at the beginning of 2004. This web page, available to everyone, is owned and managed by the company with the same name (Facebook, Inc.). It was founded by Mark Zuckerberg while he was a student at Harvard University. Initially, the membership on the page was only allowed to Harvard students, but later it was accessible to the students from colleges which are members of the “Ivy League”. After a while, all college and high school students were granted access, and eventually, all people over 13 could become members of Facebook.
Twitter is a social network designed for micro-blogging, i.e. it is intended for sending (and reading) short messages, called tweets, by the network name. The sender can limit message delivery to his/her circle of friends only, or leave public access available to anyone (which is an assumed choice). Even though, it was used with a limit of 140 characters in each tweet until now, Twitter management announced that it was considering increasing the limit to 10,000 characters, which would change the way of communication on the social network. The so-called “Beyond 140” project, as it is called by Re / code, will allow users to tweet and tweets will continue to show standard 140 characters at the timeline, but when you click to expand the tweet, you will see a message that can contains up to 10,000 characters. Twitter has lately been established socially as an important platform of public communication which is in progress in real time. Twitter was started as a platform for personal communication between different people, and as other social networks, it has frequently been used for communication between media, journalists, governments and politicians and citizens – electorate, and between companies and consumers and users.Twitter and Facebook provide the fastest way of exchanging news through short messages, mostly with attachments such as photos or links. By reading twits on your phone or computer, you can find out current events in the world or the country and your city momentarily. When we refer to the use of Twitter in Serbia, you can find some information on Twitter first, as was the case with the earthquake in Kraljevo, fire in the National theatre, big floods in the country in spring 2014. Of course, there is some news you can follow randomly, or by hashtag, which is far easier and more usual.
Instagram is a photo-sharing app that can have some relevance to the market, especially with Facebook’s recent acquisition of the application. Having more than 27 million users, Instagram has a very active user base. Use Instagram for capturing event and office culture photos. Anybody can also leverage the application to run contests and scavenger hunts. The Instagram hashtag is a powerful feature to engage viewers. Hashtags act as keywords providing a way for people to find photos through a simple search. Hashtags are especially useful as you seek to establish your brand as an industry leader and get more followers. Implement hashtags that are unique to your brand and industry, as well as hashtags that are popular keywords.
Regardless of the type of social network, social networking is simply the amplification of emotional reactions to a topic in modern life. If there are no emotions – the communication will not be successful. The hashtag is an essential part of the emotion, because the emotion will not reach wider audience without it, or become the part of the popular contents online.
During one of the last art related conferences in the USA, Marcus Romer pointed out that it has taken 38 years for the radio to reach 50 million users since its beginnings, television has had to wait for 13 years, and Facebook has achieved the same success in only two years. This proves the independence of the future of communication based on information technology, because the possibilities are infinite, and the speed of development is unknown.
It is difficult not to notice, or feel in a way, the influence of social networks, especially when it comes to popular web pages/applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even Wikipedia and You Tube. Since the end of 2006, social networks has started dictating the ways of using digital technologies worldwide.Judging by the number of Internet users; Serbia is lined up with developed European countries, even though the social end economic situation cannot measure with the environment of those countries, nor can the development of information technology. Serbia, with 52% of population using social networks, is the seventh in Europe, and the first in regional area. Iceland, Norway, Malta, Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain come before Serbia, and, for example, new technologies and online shopping are much more developed in these countries than in Serbia.Every other Serbian citizen has a profile on some of the social networks, which is more than the average 40% in Europe. Men with 54% make the majority, compared to 46% of women, also a world average. The young aged 18 to 24 are the most frequent on Facebook, there are as much as 28% of those aged 25 to 34, and people older than 65 are least present, only 1,5% of them.
THE USE OF HASHTAG IN COMMUNICATION
At the beginning of 21st century, the age of short text input came together with the blooming of mobile phones and social networks popularity. Short texts demanded abbreviations and shorter time to write messages, so the acronyms which became very popular in society today developed and they started being used outside social networks.According to the text “The history of hashtag”, the term „hashtag” did not come up until year 2007 when Chris Mesinae (@FactoryJoe) came up with the idea of using “the hash” as a symbol of metadata strategy.
According to tweets researches, the first time a hashtag was used extensively as a way to categorize tweets. That was adopted by the public during the San Diego fire accident on October 23, 2007, when Nate Ritter used Twitter to spread the news about the fire and included the hashtag #sandiegofire.
The hashtag was not popular until Twitter promoted it in 2009.
The hashtag was used before every word, from one tweet to another. Hashtag became even more popular when Twitter added the Trending Topics option, where users can see popular hashtags used worldwide. When Instagram, which now has more than 200 million users and is one of the most frequently used applications for photo exchange, appeared in 2010, tha hashtag enabled people worldwide to share photos and connect to other users of the same interests.With almost no limitations, the hashtags make users’ interaction easier. All you need is to put the symbol “#” in front of the word, and when you look for that precise word, all relating information and activities will be shown. This way, the hashtag becomes a certain “hub” (signifying the centre of an activity, topic or interest) for an infinite number of topics around the world, thus enabling the user not only to follow the topic of interest but also to build it up by sharing familiar information and give contribution to information exchange. This way, the user simultaneously participates in setting trends related to films, music, politics or other areas, not necessarily events from modern life, but also those from the past.
The trend has been set with Throwback Thursday hashtag. The origin of the term is unknown and almost impossible to find, and people might have used it before. This is how hashtag developed into a popular culture phenomenon simply and quickly. Throwback Thursday signifies posting photos from the past, taken decades, years or months ago. #TBT on Twitter is a symbol related to any contents connected to the past, whether it is music, film, technological development or other topics. This confirms the fact that hashtag is not only a phenomenon related to modern trends exclusively, but it also enables finding and following trends which used to be popular long before it appeared. This represents a special opportunity to make people remember and find out about other values by means of social networks, which are the most available, most massive channel of communication of the 21st century with the fastest penetration recorded.During the week, people post hashtags such as Man Crush Monday (#MCM) i Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW). The days (Monday and Wednesday) give users an opportunity to post photos of people they admire, whether they are important for them personally or are simply celebrities. These hashtags are not as popular as #TBT, but they are certainly some kind of a trend judging by hundreds of millions of posts.There is “Transformation Tuesday”, where users post two photos next to each other representing a kind of transformation or a makeover. For example, those who lost a lot of weight would post a photo before loss of weight next to their latest photo and hashtag it as #TransformationTuesday. There is a Flashback Friday (#FBF) with the same concept as Throwback Thursday. Selfie Sunday is a trend of posting photos, selfies that users took, and so on.For example, hashtag #80 enables us to get back to the past, and instead of browsing the Internet and using different theme pages, we get a full review of the pop culture of the eighties in one place. In 30 days (24/11-24/12/2014) there were 45,278 statuses related to the topic on Twitter and analysed with Topsy service, most of which are related to music (Duran Duran, Bananarama), and then those related to slang, questions about art, memories of different popular games of the decade, and so on.
Popularization of hashtag and how international celebrities influence the acceptance of the new communication trend and further development
The course of communication theory in two steps (also known as Model of multilevel course by Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz) is a theory based on a study from 1940 on a social influence which states that media effects are indirectly established by a leader personally influencing the opinion. Most people gain variety of information second hand under the influence of media and leaders who create public opinion, and this can explain the progress of a simple “#” symbol into a popular culture phenomenon.
Even though this theory is directly connected to spreading ideas, it can also be applied to trend spreading. Trends otherwise appear in mass media, but when a celebrity or someone people look up to start following them, they become popular with the general population. Just as any other trend in our society, it was popularized by celebrities, and the others simply started following it.
In year 2010, for example, a reality show star Kim Kardashian started a series of Throwback Thursday photos on Twitter and Instagram. She was one of the first celebrities to use weekly hashtags, and people started following her, as in other things she does. Until last year, it was one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram.
So far, more than 293 million photos on Instagram have been hashtagged as #TBT and more than 45 million as #throwbackthursday, according to Instagram data. The fact that a reality show star is meritorious for the popularity of the trend and that her posts on Twitter are followed by more than 28 million people undoubtedly shows the way society works. Things we do, wear, watch, the music we listen to are largely influenced by celebrities and other well-known people on social networks.Hashtag, selfie (a photo we take of ourselves) and similar terms are words added to a group of 150 new words and definitions in Merriam – Webster Collegiate dictionary in 2014 which is now available in printed and online form at Merriam-Webster.com. These recently accepted terms show the growing influence technology has on people’s behaviour, especially those connecting on social networks, which they used to do in direct communication before (live).In time, hashtag evolved into a form that enables humour, black humour, puns or even poetry. At the same time, Twitter corporation recognized the power of hashtag, which has now become a part of a design, slang and advertising slogans on this social network.Hashtag has also been adopted outside Twitter, which proves that it has really become a popular culture phenomenon, spreading to other communication platforms.
The famous USA rap singer Kanye West popularized the phrase “hashtag rap” a few years ago when he was describing the hip-hop rhyme pattern older than Twitter, which reminds of a way hashtag compresses comparisons.Hashtag in music does seem similar to chorus, and it also has something in common with the brackets, since it gives additional explanation or qualifies whichever phrase it ends.Today, hashtag characters are everywhere. They are seen in commercials, on T-shirts, websites, in TV programmes, and even in the news.Hashtags are important for modern popular cultures because they are used so widely that they came over the generation gap, and some companies started trying them and using them a few years ago.
First of all hashtags are important for popular culture today because they are so widely used. In only a few years’ time, they managed to transform from a completely new concept into a world social trend used by millions of people. The use has not been limited to social networks such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, since hashtags are now present in all media types. There is a video in which USA stars Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon are mocking hashtags, and the video shows how much they are really used in today’s culture. The hashtags are widely used in lots of different contexts of everyday life and speech, and their value as phenomenon cannot simply be ignored by the society.
SURVEY AND STATISTICS: Popular Serbian Hashtags and the meaning of Hashtag to vivid users in Serbia
Digital communication is something that began as fun and became a part of popular culture of contemporary society and part of the usual course of business. Communication on digital channels, without additional effort or integrated campaigns and broader strategy, enables interaction, but not necessarily the audience feedback of equal intense, who may click on the content, or expand the information, but may not buy the product or get to the event only because the content communicated on the social network is likeable and appealing as presented on the social network or another digital channel of communication. Social networking is, simply, the amplification of emotional reactions towards the institution or company that handles the communication with the audience on these networks. If there is no emotion, there is no success in communication, even if you use the hashtag you organise your communication or make it more available.According to a survey of a few people who are active on social networks, first of all those who have more than five thousand followers on Twitter (number of followers on 01/17/2016, provided by Tvitni.me analytics service) and at the same time deal with social networks in their daily work or provide advertising services or relationships with so-called “online community” to its customers, the answers to a question “What is a hashtag to you?” were similar, which confirms the fact that hashtag has become a tool for choosing or creating information:
Social media user 1, number of followers 6.315: „HASHTAG is a place where journalists and editors make sure they have not missed anything interesting on a Line and where they can, by a simple click, get information which will turn up in headlines tomorrow!”
Social media user 2, number of followers 12.638: „HASHTAG is a way to avoid the so called information overload. The optimists say there is no such thing as information overload, only bad filters. HASHTAG is a filter, through which you follow things important to you. Here is an example: #ACTAtalks #kojesledeci #onokad.
Social media user 3, number of followers 11.293: “The unavoidable sign for searching closely related words which refer to Twitter communication of the people in niche.”
Social media user 4, number of Twitter followers 14.955: „HASHTAG is a combination of ASCII characters which follow the hash (#) without space and punctuation, our letters and so on. They are used to “filter” the contents on Twitter depending on whether you want to see it or not. Searching by hashtag you can see the contents of all messages containing the hashtag or you can add the tag into the filter and not be able to see in your timeline anything containing the hashtag. In general, there are two types of hashtags, one is a general hashtag, you can tag a link, or if you want to mark a photo you can put (#pic), or if it is funny (#lol), or sexual (#nsfw). On the other hand, there are “unique” (if possible) hashtags which are used to follow only one topic. For example, #utisak is related to a TV show “Utisak nedelje” (The Impression of the week), and not to an impression of yours…“
Social media user 5, number of Twitter followers 10.431: „I like hashtags, because when I get lost on Twitter, they help me find where it all started and what people talk about. If I do not like the topic, I can choose not to follow it. Hashatgs complete the twits, and I like that.”
Social media user 6, number of followers: 9.183: „HASHTAG is an easy way to group all tweets related to a topic that interests you.”
Social media user 7, number of Twitter followers 8.170: „An easy way for marking and finding topics on Twitter, as well as an excellent advertising tool for online promotions.“ As one of the interviewed people mentioned, a hashtag can be general, and it can also refer to a concrete topic spoken of online. This is the case with a hashtag „utisak“ (influence) which refers to a certain Serbian TV show. For the chosen 30 days (from 08/01 to 08/02/2015) the hashtag „utisak“ was repeated for 2,298 times on Twitter.
This show was during its broadcast as popular on Twitter as it was on TV, but the filtration by hashtag made it possible for users of the social network to follow the show, and without limitations make comments, ask questions and often get answers in the TV show. This example shows the phenomenon of hashtag in communication today and in popular culture, where a TV show gains another parallel life on an online channel, which was not generated by the author of the show herself, but by the audience.Besides media, journalists or public events, hashtag is also used in private statuses on Twitter – tweets. There are some popular hashtags in Serbian, chosen as the most popular based on the analytical service Tvitni.me in February 2015, which are used to communicate users’ moods or attitudes: #onokad (#likewhenyou) is one of the most frequent hashtags in Serbia, as a prefix to sentences which state an opinion, mood, attitude or emotion; #mrzimzimu (I hate winter) is one of the hashtags where people state their feelings toward the season, and it can also be related to clothes, road safety, weather forecast or anything related to a negative attitude to winter conditions. Similar hashtags are #uinatzimi (in spite of winter) or #uinatsnegu (in spite of snow) and so on, and by using them, groups of like-minded people are formed, or people with the same attitude to winter, or so;In Serbia, in social networks communication the hashtag #uticaj (influence) is also popular, and in the beginning it only related to “marking” the users of Twitter with a large number of followers. Today it is being used as a mark for an achieved goal which implicates wide consequences in the community, regardless of the area it refers to.
The audience in Serbia is still immature, although the social networks, the blogs and all that “digital scene” are not of short life and is not new to Serbian market. However, the digital communication and the communication in general, should not be “playing it safe” and go only for the “safe options” – the well-known questions and answers. It must evolve and capitalize on the opportunities of development of the social networks in order to reach more information about the customers and their preferences, to learn more from them, to have them surprised, shocked, inspiring them or simply leading them to the goal. Such communication management on the social media means not only to connect, but also to bring the audience to a new level of engagement, which is based on the direct dialogue and transparent relationship. Serbian digital users cannot, although we still do, use the digital communication capabilities as the mere “digital bulletin boards” and for the simple expression of undefined emotions through the use of the “like”, the “share” or the “sticker” or even “hashtag”. 
Today, the symbol “#” does not only represent a part of the social network language, but it is also a part of everything we consume. Actually, the symbol even changes the way the society writes and behaves, because grammatically correct forms are no longer necessary. Everything boils down to a possibility to attract as much audience as possible by using the shortened texts.According to research so far that Kissmetric service announced, shorter messages are 25% more interactive. Therefore, in order to send and receive messages, we do not need to use whole sentences, but only images and hashtag symbols, which confirms the visual effect domination.
Nowadays even the TV channels use hashtag characters to attract more viewers, widen the audience and distribute information much faster. According to research results on this analytical website, pictures get 53% more likes and 84% more clicks than exclusively text messages, so the media which are consumed fast have the advantage, and that is an inevitable trend when it comes to brand development and advertising campaigns.
“Hashtags are interesting cultural meme“, says Jonah Berger, the author of the book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” and a marketing professor at the University of Pensilvania. They started as useful and applicable, but evolved so much that now they represent cultural phenomenon and give you the impression of being well-informed. Therefore, this is what we do: now we hashtag everything.
”Regardless of the type of social network, social networking is simply the amplification of emotional reactions to a topic in modern life. If there are no emotions – the communication will not be successful. The hashtag is an essential part of the emotion, because the emotion will not reach wider audience without it, or become the part of the popular contents online. Speed and simplicity are implemented in the new „hashtag culture”. Hashtag has developed from a simple social communication tool into a popular cultural phenomenon in a very short period of time. This trend is only a different way of using the Internet and just another possibility for posting the aimed personal content. It is possible that one day a specific obsession for hashtag as such will disappear, but until then it will continue to grow incredibly fast.
The things that made hashtag the essential part of communication with audience in modern society are number of hashtags, number of social network users, an easy possibility to create contents that the whole world can access, mobile communication (with 80% of users of Twitter on mobile platforms18), TV shows and advertising campaigns, which also made it even more popular. This proves that a thing which started as entertainment became a part of popular culture of the modern society.
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 The use of informational and communicational technologies in the Republic of Serbia 2014, Republican Bureau of Statistics, http://webrzs.stat.gov.rs/WebSite/repository/documents/00/01/50/47/ICT2014s.pdf
 Twitter: www.twitter.about.com
 Names with „@“ prefix are names and/or nicknames of the users of Twitter
 Tatomirovic T., Jugoslovensko dramsko pozorište na društvenim mrežama, Teatron – časopis za pozorišnu umetnost, 172-173/2015, 83-93
 Line – slang, signifies the course of communication on Twitter
 Tatomirovic T., (2015), „Ako nema emocije, nema ni uspeha u komunikaciji“, Marketing mreža, http://marketingmreza.rs/ukoliko-nema-emocije-nema-ni-uspeha-u-komunikaciji (“If there is no emotion, there is no success in communication!” – Marketing Network)
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Tatomirovic T., Ako nema emocije, nema ni uspeha u komunikaciji, Marketing mreža, http://marketingmreza.rs/ukoliko-nema-emocije-nema-ni-uspeha-u-komunikaciji/ (If there is no emotion, there is no success in communication! – Marketing Network Portal), 2015.
Tatomirovic T., Jugoslovensko dramsko pozorište na društvenim mrežama, Teatron – časopis za pozorišnu umetnost, 172-173/2015, 83-93, Muzej pozorišne umetnosti Beograd, 2015.Upotreba informaciono-komunikacionih tehnologija u Republici Srbiji, Republički zavod za statistiku, 2014. http://webrzs.stat.gov.rs/WebSite/repository/documents/00/01/50/47/ICT2014s.pdf
Zappavigna M., Discourse of Twitter and Social Media: How We Use Language to Create Affiliation on the Web – Continuum Discourse, Continuum Publishing Corporation, 2012.
Additional web locations:
http://www.tvitni.me (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://www.Facebook.com (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://www.Twitter.com (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://www.Instagram.com (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://www.imdb.com (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://wikipedia.com /02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://www.thefreedictionary.com (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://Merriam-Webster.com (02/08/2015, 01/17/2016)
http://www.Socialbakers.com (02/01/2015, 01/18/2016)
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