August 2019 – Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Let’s talk about #s.  And I don’t mean pounds.

According to Hootsuite, hashtags have been around since 2007, when Twitter first starting using them as a keyword-indexing tool.  Nowadays, hashtags are also used on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms as a way to expand marketing reach, generate brand awareness, and engage with audiences.

So, first thing’s first—how do you use hashtags?  The formula is pretty simple: Type your # symbol, follow it with a word or phrase (and numbers, when relevant), and remove any spaces or punctuation.  As a general rule, you’ll want to keep your hashtags short, memorable, and easy to understand.  And use capitalization wisely!  The distinction between #nowthatchersdead and #NowThatchersDead made a big difference to a lot of worried Cher fans in 2013.

Whether you should create your own, unique hashtag or utilize one that already exists will depend on your goals, as discussed below.

How Many Hashtags Should You Use?

The recommended number of hashtags to use per post varies from site to site.  On Twitter, you’ll want to keep it to no more than three, while on Instagram using as many as 25-30 is actually encouraged.  For more information on how many hashtags to use on different social media platforms, check out this article by Three Girls Media.

When to Use Established Hashtags

Let’s say your nonprofit creates opportunities for at-risk kids to play basketball in a safe environment.  Your board has tasked you with dropping off flyers at local stores to help spread the word about a new program that just launched.  What stores come to mind? 

If you thought of at least one sporting goods store, then you’ll get the hang of this hashtag thing in no time.  According to Instagram marketing expert Taylor Loren, the most effective hashtags are those “that have an engaging community behind them and are specific to your audience.”  This is why you bring your basketball flyers to DICK’S instead of Sephora – you have to go where your supporters are most likely to find you.  Same goes for hashtags.  As Erin Fishman of Twitter for Business explains, if you’re posting or “Tweeting about a conversation that’s happening more broadly (a relevant cultural movement or topical news story) […], adding that topic’s hashtag will connect your Tweet to the broader conversation.  By adding the hashtag, it increases the chance someone interested in the event will engage with your Tweet and discover your business [or nonprofit].”

But how do you know what hashtags your target audience is currently following?  Try checking out Wild Apricot’s Great Big List of Every Nonprofit Hashtag, perusing Sprout Social’s Hashtag Holidays calendar, or taking advantage of these other hashtag-finding ideas from Hootsuite.

When to Create Your Own Hashtags

Whether you’re running a contest, hosting a Twitter chat, or trying to start the next #IceBucketChallenge, creating your own hashtag can be a great way to help your nonprofit thrive on social media.  Ideally, your unique hashtag will establish a sort of “forum” for your audience, where they can interact with one another and with you, all united by use of the same hashtag.  According to RazorSocial, “The real point of a hashtag is to help people filter relevant conversations.  For example, if you have an event you can assign a hashtag for the event and then people can view all the tweets [or posts] related to that event, even if they don’t follow anyone attending it.”

Before deciding on your new hashtag, do a little research to make sure it isn’t already trending, being used in a different context, or being used by another organization.  You’ll also need to brainstorm how you’re going to encourage people to use your hashtag.  Consider a blog post, email blast, signage, etc., and of course social media posts to lead by example.  

Additional info and tips can be found in the recommended reading section below.

Recommended Reading:

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