Academic Desk

Stacy Wellborn

Hashtags Raise Stories above the Fray

W ith nearly two-thirds of Ameri- can adults using social media networking, it is increasingly impor- tant that nonprofits use this commu- nication tool to engage audiences and disseminate their message. With so many users and messages flying across the channels, how does a nonprofit get its message heard? One tool allows organizations to cut through the chatter, connect with the target audience, and tell their story. Introduced in 2007 by a Twitter developer to organize the avalanche of social media information, the hashtag, once a simple pound symbol (#) on your phone’s dial pad, is now a tool to be used for connecting to others and sharing your message. Eight years and billions of tweets later, hashtags are so prolific that the term is now included in the Oxford Dictionary and Scrabble. There are two primary reasons to use hashtags: first, to discover what people are talking about and second, to be found by people talking about topics related to your specialization. But before you integrate hashtags into your social media campaigns, it is important to think strategically about your hashtags. Here are three ways to effectively use hashtags in your social media strategy. Use hashtags to expand your brand and audience. Research hashtags related to your message, then like, share or comment on those posts. Engage users in conversation and introduce your brand to new audiences. The more you engage with users, the more likely they are to follow or like you, giving you the opportunity to continue the conversation.

across platforms. It is important to search current usage of the hashtag, as you want to be careful of any cross- pollination of your message with an unintended non-synchronous message. Join a hashtag bandwagon. Keep an eye on trending hashtags in your arena. Hashtags are often used effectively around special events, promotions and campaigns. A hashtag campaign may be organization-specific or broad enough for many to engage. Anticipate when a national campaign may allow you to ride its coattails and gain exposure for your organization. In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge generated over 4.4 million Tweets and $88.5 million for the ALS Foundation. In December 2015, the #GivingTuesday campaign generated over 415,000 mentions with 98.6% on Twitter, ultimately raising nearly $40 million for over 5000 organizations. With so many adults using social media, and as competition for donations increases, nonprofits need to understand how to engage users in this growing platform and to use tools to build awareness. Through the strategic use of hashtags, organizations can connect with audiences and spread their message effectively. Stacy Wellborn, a passionate community volunteer, an adjunct professor and small business entrepreneur, has over 15 years of experience solving myriad communication challenges for a variety of companies. From brand development to website design, e-mail, and social media marketing and public relations, Stacy helps clients identify creative solutions to business challenges, to generate awareness, build community relationships and increase revenues.

For example, if your nonprofit supports tech- nology education for young women, search for #STEM or #womenintech then engage those users. They ultimately will share your content and possibly become brand advocates for you. Create your own hashtag and use it consistently across all channels and media. When a potential audience member is look- ing for information related to your topic, they will find your hashtag and may decide to fol- low or like your organization, giving you the ability to engage them on an ongoing basis. Choose a hashtag that is separate from your brand name or handle, yet is complementary to your campaign. Be careful not to be too broad; customize a popular hashtag so that it’s specific to you and your campaign. For example, if your organization promotes a destination, you could choose a hashtag that promotes vacations in general, but look for what makes your destination unique and incorporate that into your hashtag campaign. The Mobile (Alabama) Convention & Visitors Bureau @VisitMobileAL launched a promotional campaign with the hashtag #BorntoCelebrate in their posts, encouraging locals and visitors to utilize the hashtag across all social media channels. Note: Choose a branded hashtag that you can own, using it in most of your posts to allow users to find your messages, even

24 I Nonprofit Performance Magazine

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