2014 was the year that hashtags found their way into the dictionary, and 2015 saw multiple world’s records broken for hashtag use, which means that 2016 will have to work hard to top those headlines.

News agencies and social platforms have been busy sharing their round-ups of the best hashtags of 2015 (scroll down for a round up of links) for the past couple of weeks. There’s no questioning the fact that hashtags are a popular and powerful part of our communication culture. Hashtags are no longer limited to marketing and pop culture memes. When news happens, a hashtag follows. So what new hashtag trends for 2016 can you expect to see? Which trends are here to stay?

Heading into 2016, hashtags are entwined with all our political and social cause marketing. The coming year, with closely watched elections in the US, and widely publicized refugee crisis abroad, is sure to hatch a fresh crop of popular hashtags. We can only hope that major hashtags of 2016 don’t reflect the kind of terrorist activities that spawned some of the tragic megatags of 2015 including #PrayforParis and #JeSuisCharlie. When the world is in crisis, whether natural or man-made, the resulting hashtags resonate, unite and polarize. These distilled sentiments rise up through social, lending a voice to the oft unheard, but also potentially twisting and misrepresenting popular opinion, in the process. It’s a controversial phenomenon.

Hashtags aren’t always serious, however. Hashtags have continued to be used frivolously, humorously and oftentimes extravagantly in the past year. 2015 saw the launch of dozens and dozens of “tag for like” type apps in the app store and Google play store – promising users more ROH (return on hashtag) via the proper curation of hashtags for their social posts.

Of course with such widespread adoption, comes a fair and healthy dose of skepticism. Making fun of hashtags has been turned into a sport. Popular culture icon Jimmy Fallon, host of the Tonight Show, has gamified this – reading reader’s ironic tweets with suggested hashtags in a popular segment that never seems to get old.

Mocking hashtags hasn’t made them go away. Love them or hate them, hashtags are resilient, and remain an expedient way to classify information across social platforms. This critical and simple utility ensures their survival.

  • Hashtag Personalization: This was a trend that we predicted for 2015. With more and more people becoming familiar with the power and utility of hashtags, it’s clear that their use is not just for big brands anymore. Whether you’re tracking your highschool reunion photos, planning local club meet-ups or marketing your bake sale, hashtags are a cheap/free way to consolidate your message across member and participant social platforms. More and more individuals are adopting their own hashtags but this is leading to the same types of ownership debates and issues that have occurred in the past with domain names and other online “properties.” The laws around hashtag ownership will continue to evolve as personal hashtags outpace brands in the digital space.
  • Hashtag Gamification: It’s not just Jimmy Fallon. Clever marketers, burnt out by too much noise and seeking better engagement, are finding ways to gamify hashtag use on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Turning your audience into content creators and rewarding the cleverest and most popular ones may still be too risky a practice for some brands, but it’s the answer to the burnout felt by many who question the ROI of a Twitter party and the value of a Superbowl ad hashtag.
  • Emoji Action: Every year the web becomes slightly more visual and the explosion of the emoji and sticker market, in the past year has accelerated that process. With more and more worldwide users carrying more and more advanced devices in their pocket, emojis make sense. They burst through language barriers and deliver the promise of instantaneous communication and connection that we humans seem to crave from our online interactions. Word-based hashtags are at a disadvantage with a worldwide audience. They are limited to the language/alphabet of the text. We predict that emoji based hashtags – or some version thereof, will come into play in the coming year.

So what do you think the new year holds? We’ve asked some of our favorite hashtag influencers & experts to share their hashtag predictions for 2016, and looked at specific communities in the process

Hashtags in Marketing

“Hashtags will continue their evolution across multiple platforms. Users cannot get around even an “accidental hashtag” with Twitter’s new capabilities and marketers are short sighted not to use them even in a FB-only campaign. Until there’s a new way for campaigns to effectively unite a theme across channels and audiences, the hashtag will remain a go-to tool. ” – Molly Lynch

“A hashtag for your brand or project is a great way to track what’s being said by your community on social media. The hashtag has moved beyond #sorrynotsorry sarcasm to become a vital tool for marketers to follow conversations, observe trends, and identify fans.” – Anne Parris

“Mobile use continues to increase, and hashtags are taking center stage as the gathering spot for topical communities. Whether it’s a political discussion, travel group or hot entertainment buzz, the ease of finding the latest updates has turned hashtags into an impromptu chat room across platforms. Big brands will become more savvy about inserting themselves into discussions that are already happening. They’ll make sure that they’re relevant when it comes to chatter in their product space.” – Chelsea Day

Community Hashtags

“I think we will continue to see activity in Twitter chats decline as Twitter users become more used to hashtags and start using them more outside of chats. Brands will continue to try to leverage trending or topical hashtags in their updates, but there’s a line to be walked between being relevant and trying to hijack a currently ‘hot’ hashtag.”- MackCollier

Event Hashtags

“Visibility for events on social media is of paramount importance these days – all producers/event planners/organizers should have hashtag notices posted upon walk-up so people can properly tag themselves upon arrival. It elevates any production, project or event and creates a media buzz. ” – Raquel Bruno

Pop Culture & Entertainment Hashtags

“2016 will be a year that I hope everyone knows what a hashtag IS! Starting with celebrities, and trickling down to the masses. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that children will be named with a hashtag, movies, products, brands titled with a hashtag…. Everything will have a hashtag attached to their messages.” – Joey Fortman

“Hashtags have popped up and are being utilized all over the entertainment industry and I don’t see that lessening in 2016. The networks understand the value of a trending hashtag for a show and will continue to encourage their celebrities to live tweet with their fans. So, turn on your favorite show, grab your phone and maybe you can snag yourself a tweet from your favorite Beverly Hills Housewife!” – Monique Cocco

Travel Hashtags

“Working with hotels and the travel industry, I can say that we will continue to see hashtags used to grow and create communities. People who visit a hotel can interact with guests who visit at different times. They can discuss experiences that only other hotel visitors will understand. Thanks to hashtags visitors can share an entire hotel experience with friends and family and not only from their own points of view. They can share the hotel experience of multiple hotel visitors with their family and friends.” – Karla Campos

Hashtags for Social Good

” My 2016 predictions include that both large and small social good organizations will be capitalizing on hashtags in much more proactive and creative ways. We’re going to be seeing organizations use more mainstream hashtags that aren’t necessarily exclusive to the nonprofit sector, such as #finance #innovation and #smallbiz to inject themselves into digital global conversations that are related to their causes. We’re also going to be seeing the hashtags #globalgoals and #SDGS become popular unifying hashtags as social good organizations and countries come together to work on the newly outlined United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” – Caroline Avakian

“Keep it simple and readable so that anyone who adds it to their content can help spread the messages. Keep in mind that a hashtag alone is going to do very little, so nonprofits and causes have to build support to get the word out ahead of time and during the time frame that they are hoping people use it. Finally, think long term with them for better ongoing success.” – C.C. Chapman

Feeling reflective? Here are some of our favorite Hashtag roundups of the top Hashtags of 2015

2015 on Twitter – Year in review

NY Times 2015 Top Twitter Hashtags, Tweets and Users

Top 10 Hashtags of 2015 from the US Daily News

NBC News Top Twitter News Hashtags of 2015

CNN’s Top Trending Hashtags of 2015

The Mirror’s Top 12 Hashtags of 2015

Justice & Joy – Top 2015 Hashtags from the Voice of America

Hashtags that Empowered Women in 2015

Top Eco Hashtags of 2015 via Eco Watch

Best Hashtags of 2015 via The Root

Top Fashion Hashtags of 2015

Got a prediction to share? Tweet us with your prediction @Hashtracking.