Using Hashtags as an Advocacy Tool

Ashton Wingate
October 28, 2011

Twitter for the Layman

Twitter- An information network made up of 140-character messages from all over the world.

Tweet- A message posted via Twitter containing 140 characters or fewer.

ReTweet- The act of forwarding another user's Tweet to all of your followers.

Follow- To follow someone on Twitter is to subscribe to their Tweets or updates on the site.

Hashtag- The # symbol is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet.

Trending Topic- A subject algorithmically determined to be one of the most popular on Twitter at the moment.

Timeline- A real-time list of Tweets on Twitter.

Twitter Glossary

Hashtags are one of Twitter’s most useful tools. The popular # symbol serves an important purpose on the social networking site to categorize tweets and is primarily used to mark topics or keywords within a tweet. This method of communicating through Twitter is not only a great way to spread information but is the key to organizing that information as well.

Tracking the Conversation

Hashtags are a favorite of conferences and event organizers because of their ability to track conversations happening on Twitter. As we all know, Twitter can be a vast sea of chatter and information. Hashtags, within the context of a subject relevant to you, can help you to sift through all the noise and get to the conversation you want to follow.

For example, at the 2010 RESULTS International Conference, we created a hashtag specifically for use at our event. It was a great benefit to the RESULTS staff, as we got to experience the thoughts and reactions of conference participants in real time even if we were not in the room. It was a big help to conference attendees as they were able to get news and updates about upcoming speakers and changes in the conference schedule. In addition, it was a great way for those not able to come to D.C. for the conference to still participate in the conversation. Through the use of our RESULTS conference hashtag we were able to put our event, attended by hundreds, at the fingertips of any one in the world. I have no doubt that we gained followers, volunteers, and new partners in our work through incorporating the use of Twitter hashtags into our event communications strategy.

Here’s a tweet that was sent during our conference that utilizes our IC hashtag!

Tweet 1

Just this past week, our friends at the Half in Ten campaign released a new report on poverty in the United States, and here you can see all the traffic about their report using #halfinten.

Taking Advantage of a Hot Topic

At any given time on Twitter there are a few hashtags that rise above the fold as the most frequently used. These hashtags represent the most popular subjects of conversation on Twitter. These groups of hashtags are referred to as “Trending Topics” and they change daily or even hourly. As activists, it’s only right that we would use these trending topics to promote our work when and where it’s relevant. For the past few weeks, hashtags relating to the 2012 Presidential campaign, Occupy Wall Street, and Barack Obama have been prominent. By including these hashtags in tweets relating to our advocacy work, we can bring our issues into these larger conversations. By providing valuable, insightful, — and most importantly — action-oriented messages into these discussions, we will have an even greater impact. From Your members of Congress, White House staff, Congressional aides and staffers are all using Trending Topics as an opportunity to have their voices heard or keep a finger on the pulse of what constituents want, and we should too!

Here’s a tweet about our issues using a hashtag about an upcoming holiday.

hot topic tweet

Increasing Your Visibility

Another good way to think about hashtags is to liken them to a megaphone that will send your tweet far and wide for all to hear. For RESULTS, I know that hashtags help us connect with many other poverty-focused organizations on twitter who may otherwise not know about us. Using the hashtag #poverty in a tweet about our efforts to get cosigners on an important bill or to pass along a great op-ed by a volunteer will help other Twitter users to realize that we are a reliable source of good information on the subject of poverty. If they’re tracking the poverty hashtag and we come across their “timeline,” what starts as a “follow” or a “retweet” might end in them attending a RESULTS chapter meeting in their home town!

Here’s a search for #poverty, check out some of the orgs that come up in the search results!

poverty

Helpful Tips

Hopefully, I’ve gotten you excited about the use of hashtags and their potential to amplify our advocacy online. The following are some helpful tips and resources that will provide your some more guidance as to try these hashtags on for size.

  1. Don't #spam #with #hashtags. Don't over-tag a single Tweet. (Best practices recommend using no more than 3 hashtags per tweet.)
  2. If you’re organizing an event, choose a simple hashtag that represents your event or organization. Keep it short and sweet (#RESULTSConf). On your Twitter feed, and throughout the day at the event, make friendly remindesr about your hashtag and that you can track the conversation through it.
  3. If you’re trying to track a hashtag simply search for it in the search bar at the top of your Twitter page or click on it within the tweet you’re reading.

Other Resources

Hashtags.org- An encyclopedia of hashtags already in use on Twitter

Twilert- E-mails you the latest on whichever specific hashtag you want to follow so you don’t have to stay glued to Twitter all day.

Tagal.us- Another great dictionary for hashtags

Monitter- Monitter is a real time Twitter search tool that enables you to monitor a set of hashtags on Twitter.

Tastelive.com- Great example of an event based organization using twitter to increase their reach.