#Hashtags for #Health

In a class called “Social Media and Health,” the topic of hashtags is a must. Our 3SMS strategist, Lisa Gualtieri, recently gave a lecture to her Tufts Medical School graduate students on #Hashtags for #Health. Where did they come from? What are they used for?


Before hashtags were dubbed “hashtags,” they were introduced in the late 1980s in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for the easy grouping and searching of content. Twitter gave them their current name, popularized them and added the feature of hyperlinking. Since then, they have spread to other social media platforms and our societal pop culture.


For health purposes, hashtags are primarily used in three ways:


  1. Emergent - A great example of an emergent hashtag is the well-known #ALSIceBucketChallenge. It showcases how wildly popular a hashtag can become, but also the common problem of multiple hashtags arising for one purpose, as exemplified by the equally popular #IceBucketChallenge. (Side note: Interestingly, both break the common hashtag recommendation of being short.)

  2. Planned - Planned hashtags are often used to promote a specific topic. Examples include hashtags used for health observances, such as February’s American Heart Month. #AmericanHealthMonth, #HearthHealthMonth, and #GoRedforWomen are just a few planned hashtags used for this observance.

  3. Extended - When a hashtag’s purpose is stretched away from its original intention, it becomes an extended hashtag. Lisa uses this method when she asks her students to use the #SuperBowl hashtag as a way of catching people’s attention to spread health messages. Topics can include choosing healthy food options for a Super Bowl party or not driving home after drinking.


No matter what hashtag you’re using, the purpose is clear: They are a great way to catch people’s attention with a health message. But be warned, hashtags can easily be overused. (Generally, one to three is enough for one social media post.) Also, creating a brand new hashtag and getting it to catch on is hard. Rare is the success of #ALSIceBucketChallenge. Lisa’s best advice? Extend the use of existing hashtags to help achieve your messaging goals. The #SuperBowl may be over, but #AprilFoolsDay is just around the corner.



Updated: January 2020

3 Social Media Strategists, LLC

Boston, MA.