Love them or hate them, the hashtag (# symbol) is gaining popularity and traction, and nonprofits that understand how to use them will be able to communicate better with the growing numbers of people who rely on hashtags.
While the symbol originated on Twitter (and before that, the telephone), the # sign is now used on every major social network, including Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest. Primarily, users tag posts, tweets and pins with hashtags to help make them discoverable to a wider audience.
With 98% of charities using at least one social network, and seven out of 10 nonprofits finding social media channels useful for fundraising, using hashtags effectively should be a major priority for social cause organizations.
There are two main benefits to nonprofits when using hashtags:
See what people are talking about. Clicking on a specific hashtag (for example charitytuesday" or fundraising") will filter posts and tweets so that the user only sees information on that specific topic. Hashtags are a perfect way to see what is popular on social media in real time. By visiting What the Trend or Hashtags.org, your organization can see what topics are trending" #147; meaning, which topics are being mentioned the most. You can also simply visit Twitter and look at the Trends column.
Engage new supporters. Using a hashtag like #GivingTuesday will expose your nonprofit to new people #147; users who are clicking on the hashtag and are interested in the topic, but may never have heard of your organization.
Send a Unified Message
When promoting an event or an advocacy campaign, the use of the hashtag marks solidarity with a larger cause and a bigger group of people. For example, the Step Up campaign is a coordinated effort of childhood cancer organizations, advocating for increased funding for childhood cancer research. The #StepUp campaign encourages supporters to tweet their representatives using the hashtag #StepUp #147; making it very powerful if thousands of people use it across social networks.
Using hashtags to monitor conversations and research topics is one thing, but how to use them to promote your nonprofit and raise awareness for your organization? Consider the following:
Use a hashtag to promote your next event. Hashtags are best used in conjunction with a specific event or advocacy campaign, one with a fixed timeline. Before the event: Create buzz by announcing and using the hashtag before the event so people can connect and ask questions. During: Get attendees excited and facilitate conversations. After: Monitor the feedback and reactions to the event. You can also solicit ideas for next year. Dont forget to budget some time and volunteer/staff resources to monitoring the hashtag actively.
Start a social media Street Team. The Massachusetts Conference for Women always does a fantastic job cultivating and instructing their social media Street Team at their annual conference. Team members receive perks like discounted registration and special networking opportunities. The time commitment for your Street Team should be minimal and the instructions should be very specific #147; promote your nonprofit hashtag on their social networks!
Hold a Contest via Instagram. Contest winners can get free tickets to an event, a lunch with the executive director, or a small prize like a t-shirt. The Trustees of Reservation, a North Shore nonprofit, created an Instagram Scavenger Hunt, inviting their supporters to visit any of their reservations and share their best winter photos on Instagram. The photos had to be tagged using the hashtags #FrostyFun2014 and #thetrustees. They then shared some of the best photos on their social media channels. Its simple, engaging, and fun.
Use Pinterest, the third largest social network, to your advantage. If your nonprofit isnt already on Pinterest, its definitely worth exploring. Start specific pin boards for your events, your programs, behind the scenes, staff members, volunteers, infographics relating to your cause, advocacy days. People use Pinterest to discover new things and regularly add hashtags in the captions of photos, which users can then use to search for similar photos.
Show your supporters how hashtags work. You may have vaguely asked your staff, volunteers, and board members to share our information on your networks", but what does that mean? The more specific you are with assigning tasks, the better for accountability and measurement (and the more likely they are to understand and thus follow through). Your biggest supporters may not even know what a hashtag is #147; but they may like to know. Education is the key to advocacy and empowerment.
Involve donors. Donors love to be involved in the activities of the organizations they support, and they especially love when they can give back in ways outside of their pocketbooks. Share your nonprofit hashtag with them, or, better yet, create a new one called #UnitedWayLovesDonors (or something shorter) and post donor stories and program impact tidbits tagged with the hashtag.
Respond to questions and comments. Being active on any social network means just that: being active. Do not post, tweet, or pin and then leave. Make sure to respond to questions, comments, and feedback in a timely manner. Think of the hashtag as a way to begin a conversation with a new supporter and bring them into the fold.
Be sure to measure. After promoting and using the hashtag for a few weeks, go to Hashtracking.com to get a free report on the number of tweets and the reach of your hashtag (only measures Twitter).
Pro tips for great hashtags:
Make it short. Since hashtags are primarily used on Twitter, you must think character length. #ArtFestWinterFundraiser will not work. This is where you need to get creative. You also need to make sure that your potential hashtag isnt taken by another brand or event (so get searching).
Check spelling. Dont make the famous mistake of creating a hashtag like #susanalbumparty, #rimjobs or #clitfestival #147; all legitimate hashtags created to promote very G-rated events. (Hard to believe.)
Getting into the habit of using hashtags can be intimidating at first, but once your organization realizes the benefits, you will get addicted!
Julia Campbell, principal at J Campbell Social Marketing, helps nonprofits reach new supporters and strengthen relationships with current ones using online tools. Email her at email@example.com or call 978-578-1328.
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