Hashtags seem to be everywhere these days. While they might have made their first move on Twitter, the fire quickly spread to other social media platforms, and now hashtags are considered an integral part of everyone’s social media marketing strategy.
There is a lot more that goes into hashtags than you might think. There are also other ways that hashtags can be used outside of promoting your brand or yourself online. Let’s take a look at how hashtags are used to promote causes and engage people as we continue to find connections through social media platforms online.
What Is a Hashtag?
A hashtag, again, originally created for and founded on Twitter, is a word or a phrase that is preceded by the # symbol. A hashtag is used to index relevant topics or keywords – even key phrases – on social media platforms. It means that people can easily find and follow niches and industries that they are interested in.
People use hashtags to categorize the content that they are uploading to social media. For example, if they upload a picture of brunch, they might include the hashtag #brunch in the caption. This means that anyone searching the hashtag #brunch on social media will find content relevant to the hashtag. If you click on hashtags on social media that you’re interested in, you will be able to find more content that includes this hashtag. This also applies when you search that hashtag in the search bar. People either include hashtags in the caption section of the content or create a new comment for them.
A Brief History of Hashtags for Causes
Media outlets have been quick to pick up on the strategic way that people tend to use hashtags these days. While there are still many people who use hashtags like #brunch to share photos of their food, there is a lot more significance associated with hashtags. So much so, in fact, that the media have come up with a new term: hashtag activism.
Hashtag activism is when someone on social media shows their support for an organization, a cause, or a topical issue through a hashtag. The main premise of hashtag activism is to share the topic, cause, or issue with followers, friends, and family so that they can support the cause or issue and share it themselves. Of course, this leads to online forums and discussions around the cause, which opens up the door for change to happen. Hashtags like this have been seen as a way to begin a movement or a revolution online around supporting a particular cause, like the very relevant #BlackLivesMatter.
Memorable Hashtags for Causes
Speaking of #BlackLivesMatter, let’s take a look at some of the more memorable causes that have been shared on social media through hashtags.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a movement that encourages its supporters to demand an end to police brutality, particularly aimed at African-Americans in America. The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag has been around for a while, having originated through Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors, and Alicia Garza, who created it in relation to the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. It has ebbed and flowed online over the years as other relevant incidents have been captured by media and shared online.
Another memorable hashtag that has been used for a popular cause is #TakeAKnee. This hashtag has been circulating since 2016 and spearheaded the cause of once again calling attention to racial inequality through police brutality. The movement was started by Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player who kneeled through the national anthem.
One of the most memorable hashtags that spearheaded a cause within the women’s rights movement is the hashtag #MeToo. This hashtag started to gain momentum on Twitter in 2007, when Tarana Burke first used it, with the call to all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to call out their attackers and make it known that they had had enough. Initially, the hashtag was just used to try and spread awareness, but it has since turned into a powerful movement that has encouraged other sub-movements to be created, including the #HowIWillChange movement. It has also led to many perpetrators being punished and having to answer for their actions.
Lastly, a successful movement that was started using a hashtag was the #NotOneMore cause. This movement began to gain momentum shortly after a shooting at the University of California in 2014, where six students died. Richard Martinez was the father of one of the victims and used his voice to highlight the need for change regarding gun laws, asking for stricter gun control regulations to be implemented. The hashtag movement allowed Richard to work alongside a digital team, who came up with a tool that citizens could use to communicate with their governor and political representatives, asking for change.
When Hashtag Activism Didn’t Work
Hashtag activism has, for the most part, been a success story so far. However, there have been times where it didn’t end so well. One of the most notable examples of where hashtag activism failed is #kony2012. Joseph Kony was a militia leader in Uganda who forced children in the area to become soldiers. As more and more people learned about this, it was determined that something had to be done. In 2012, a non-profit organization named Invisible Children made a documentary called ‘Kony 2012’, and soon after, the hashtag #kony2012 was created.
The documentary itself and the hashtag did the rounds online, and incredibly it was shown that as many as 66% of Twitter actions in March of 2012 related to the Kony hashtag somehow. Needless to say, it’s hard to fathom how much attention this cause received. However, it didn’t lead to any tangible action, and nothing was further done to find Kony and bring him to justice. He is still alive and well today, and the director of the documentary was hospitalized at the end of March 2012 for having a breakdown.
Issues With Using Hashtags for Causes
There have been a few issues with using hashtags for causes, the most notable one being that it is considered lazy. In fact, the term ‘slacktivism’ has been coined to describe this criticism of using hashtags to spearhead causes online.
This is because it’s a lot easier to create and share a hashtag online than it is to physically take action and do something about the cause that you believe in. The ease of being able to fight for a cause virtually leads to people being concerned that it might cause overuse and fatigue of the issue itself. It also concerns critics that people are satisfied just to share a hashtag and take no further action beyond this concerning the cause.
Advantages of Using Hashtags for Causes
However, a study conducted in 2014 found that as many as 64% of Americans who participated said that they were a lot more likely to support a cause or an issue through donating or even volunteering their time physically if they had shared of liked a piece of content online or followed an organization of the cause online through social media.
Supporters of using hashtags for topical causes believe that it sets a dialogue, and hopefully, a new precedent that everyone can agree on and be in support of. It also helps to educate people who otherwise were in the dark on those causes and engages the community to not only share the hashtag but to take action if it’s a cause that they believe in.
How Hashtags Can Be Used to Measure Reach
Hashtags are essential to the life of causes like the ones that we’ve discussed above because they can keep track of how the cause is progressing and who it’s reaching. With the right tools, you can use hashtags to measure how many times they’re being shared, what content they’re being shared with, and what platforms they’re being shared on. Hashtags are a way to bridge the gap between your existing community online, and more people who might want to join that community. If you include a hashtag on your content to draw attention to a cause, people looking for content under that hashtag will be connected to you. Using a hashtag to help accelerate a cause online is a great way to find ambassadors, advocates, and followers so that you can create a movement out of your hashtag.
For example, if you include the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on your content, people who are on social media and searching this hashtag in the search bar will be able to find your content, as it will come up under #BlackLivesMatter when they search it. When you’ve got in-depth analytics showing you how often your hashtag is being shared, and where and to whom, you can figure out where to place your time and become more efficient at creating your cause with hashtag activism. While it might not happen right away, as long as you’re posting consistently on your social media and using your hashtag as much as possible, this is the best way for ambassadors, advocates, and followers to find you and champion your charity or cause.
While hashtags might have found their start on Twitter, they have quickly spread to be on all different kinds of social media channels online these days and are used for many different purposes. From sharing photos of your food with your fans to promoting a brand that you’re working with and even championing a cause, hashtags are an integral part of social media life that are showing no signs of slowing down or becoming irrelevant anytime soon.
As more and more people spend time online on social media sites, more and more hashtags are used to engage, connect, and spearhead movements and relevant causes in the hopes that they can inadvertently help to change the world.
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