Raise Your #HashtagFlag

Using Hashtags to Elevate Your Advocacy Campaign

   Social media is so much more than just a network of sharing information. It is now easier than ever for anyone, anywhere in the world, to get their voices heard on a wide range of issues. If used properly, social media can be an extremely powerful and effective advocacy tool to promote social justice, legislative change, and get everyday citizens involved. Politicians, executive level leadership staff at large corporations, and public figures can all be contacted directly through social media for the whole world to see. Social media provides a connection for diverse individuals and groups around the world to feel a sense of unity over a common experience.

Now, you may be asking yourself how one person (like yourself) could mobilize an entire grassroots advocacy campaign to enact change. Or perhaps you are a lobbyist, or work for an advocacy organization, or maybe you simply want to “stir the pot.” Regardless of your reason, I am going to provide you with some guidelines and recommendations for getting your voice heard loud and clear through the use of hashtags specifically on Twitter. While you can use hashtags on Instagram and Facebook, Twitter has proven to be the best platform for hashtag use when launching an advocacy campaign.

One of the most important assets available to Twitter users working toward advancing their mission is the use of hashtags. Hashtags, which are short words or phrases following the hash/pound sign (#), are an easy and convenient way for regular people and public figures to spread awareness. Hashtags are also beneficial to advocacy groups because they provide a way of “aggregating knowledge, rapidly disseminating information, and mobilizing people during advocacy campaigns. Additionally…such technological features heighten social media’s potential to facilitate dialogue and create communities online” (Bowen et al, 2016, p. 6). Think of your hashtag as your campaign’s brand. When enough people start using the same hashtag, it is known as “trending” and that will accelerate your movement to other like-minded individuals. Saxton et al (2015) wrote an entire scholarly journal article just on the use of hashtags in advocacy, and how effective they can be. The authors make the point that hashtags are powerful because they are participatory, improve searchability, and create networks and communities. Now, how do you choose an influential hashtag? Well, Saxton et al (2015) recommend that you use hashtags that will advance the organization’s cause and also stress that “organizational messaging becomes more memorable and serves for better brand recognition when a hashtag is more specific, such as #FindaCure or #CancerSucks” (Saxton et al, 2015, p. 166). Also, be sure to use a hashtag that is unique and hasn’t been used before. A quick Twitter or Google search will help you to determine this. It is also a good idea to discuss your selected hashtag with friends or colleagues first for a second set of eyes.
Once you’ve selected your hashtag, your next step is to grow your audience and community around that hashtag. This involves more than just a constant use of the hashtag – you will have to get your audience personally engaged in the movement first. Posing a question on social media and asking people to share their experience using your campaign’s hashtag is a great way to rally engagement. For example, in my job we are currently tackling the high cost of prescription drugs and have asked our followers to use our hashtag #StopRxGreed to share their own stories regarding prescription drug prices.
Of course some movements will be easier to get personal stories from than others, but with a global social media audience you are bound to gain some sort of following with the right hashtag. Another recommendation to get more people engaged is to combine your hashtag with other hashtags for similar movements, and of course start following influential public figures relating to your movement. If you want to instill change in water quality for instance, it would be wise to follow the EPA and see what hashtags they are using and perhaps even include their Twitter handle in some of your campaign’s tweets. Be sure to tweet regularly about your initiative – at least once a day – but only with engaging information or updates. Retweeting others’ posts about your issue and adding your hashtag to it is also a great way to get noticed. Lastly, be sure to have a specific call to action (CTA) in your campaign. Without any suggestions for change, your hashtag (no matter how great it is) will fall short and not get the attention it deserves. People want to feel like they are actually making a difference, and can do so with little effort from the comfort of their mobile device or computer.

Bowen, G., Gordon, N., & Chojnacki, M. (2017). Advocacy Through Social Media: Exploring Student Engagement in Addressing Social Issues. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 21(3), 5-30. Retrieved from http://openjournals.libs.uga.edu/index.php/jheoe/article/view/1877/1020

Saxton, G.D., Niyirora, J.N., Guo, C., Waters, R.D. (2015). #AdvocatingForChange: The Strategic Use of Hashtags in Social Media Advocacy. Advances in Social Work, 16 (1), 154-169. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiplNXlkoLhAhUjwVkKHbwqDqEQFjADegQIBxAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fjournals.iupui.edu%2Findex.php%2Fadvancesinsocialwork%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F17952%2F19928%2F0&usg=AOvVaw3_oqME5NYwYKqjulzeqqou

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