Thanks to millions of supporters on social media, a hashtag can cause profound global impact that involves millions of people in real-time!
The beauty of it is that anyone, anywhere, can create a heavy-hitting hashtag and see REAL worldwide change. When hashtags go viral, there’s action, revolution, laughter and tears, miracles, connection, innovation, and far-reaching societal declaration.
Whew! In this article, we’re going to take a deeper look and unearth some valuable insight into hashtags, especially for nonprofits. Then to cap it off, we’ll briefly dissect some stirring examples from 2014. Enjoy!
What Makes Hashtags So Special?
Oh boy, there’s so much to say here. They truly are one of the more useful and exciting creations to emerge from social media. At the end of the day, it’s all about connectivity. But, here are the big reasons:
- Unity: To show solidarity with a group of people, somewhere in the world, who are dealing with great pain, undergoing great struggle, or celebrating a mighty victory.
- Statements: They allow people to spread out across great distances ‒ to unify their voices under one umbrella notion, captured by the essence of the hashtag’s statement.
- Pushback: Elected officials, bureaucracies, and multinational corporations have no choice but to take notice of this new form of social expression. THE PEOPLE can share their voices around particular geopolitical events, causes, or emergent philosophies outside the more highly-controlled channels.
- Remembrance: When something horrible happens, hashtags allow people to pay homage and pay their respects.
- Participation: Hashtags allow people to zero in on one specific cause and then share their own personal views, playing a part in strengthening its reach and impact.
- Truth: Folks now use hashtags to check up on certain issues and events more often than mainstream news. No commercials, no nonsense; simply search for the hashtag and you’re instantly in the moment-to-moment action.
- Media: Above and beyond voices, opinions, solidarity, awareness and all that stuff, a hashtag allows people to get instant access to all videos and photographs attached to it.
While mainstream narratives tell us that the abyssal numbers from the 2014 holiday retail season are due to a floundering economy, let’s not forget how many people are tuning out of conventionality, consumerism, and unsustainable commercialism. Hashtags are playing a role…
Should Nonprofits Rally Around a Hashtag?
Obviously for nonprofits, political campaigns and causes, hashtags are especially powerful. But when’s a good time to hop into the conversation? This is a fabulous question. First of all:
Don’t Be Hasty!
Let’s say a relevant, earth-shattering event just popped off and you’re on Facebook or Twitter right when the news breaks. Within minutes, a powerful hashtag springs up, and within hours it has consolidated immense attention. Hold your horses. You have no clue what this hashtag is going to morph into.
The entire planet took part in the (still ongoing) Ferguson issue, which now represents the greater issues of:
- Racial inequality
- Economic disparity
- The militarization of police forces
- Loss of civil liberties
- Constitutional degradation
- Grievances with the American judicial system
Let’s say you hopped into the conversation, thereby attaching your nonprofit to the issue, early on when things were still calm. How were you supposed to know it would soon turn into this?
And here’s the other side of the coin: hashtags are often grouped together to cover more virtual ground. So what was just “#ferguson” became that, plus…
If this is your turf, and you represent a civil rights-related nonprofit or cause, join the conversation! These issues need a voice ‒ your voice! But if you represent something that’s, well, too sensitive for an issue like this, then don’t act too quickly. Hashtags are too important now. They turn into EXTREMELY serious business fast. #RespectTheHashtag folks. No kidding.
If this is a cosmically critical issue, for example a terrorist attack, you DO NOT want to get connected to a hashtag that gets derailed or hijacked into something really ugly. There could actually be legal ramifications at this point. We’ve all seen this happen. Ignore your impulse to hop on all that attention (in the attention economy), and wait until the dust clears a bit.
But on the other hand, if it’s a “safer” issue or something that’s safe to connect to your nonprofit’s brand (yes even nonprofits have those), then the sooner the better. And relax, there’s always so much going on in this crazy modern world of ours, that new things happen all the time and hashtags come and go. Or, over time, they turn into different things.
A good example in this case would be “#katrina”, because what it was right after Hurricane Katrina isn’t what it is now.
Obviously, this isn’t the case with something like #Dontshoot, but the point here is that hashtags are complicated. So in terms of attaching to other outside hashtags, it’s risky. But how about creating your own?
Should Nonprofits Create Their Own?
When it comes to your cause, initiative, campaign or nonprofit, by all means ‒ yes! But if you’re attempting to generate awareness by creating a hashtag for something else, then just be careful. It takes some finesse and this is all very situational.
What if you create a seemingly innocent and awesome hashtag, and it gains serious traction? If that’s never happened to you yet, remember this: “From the moment you start spreading a hashtag, you are essentially handing over control.”
Once it goes big, you’ve lost all control and it’s impossible to anticipate how a tiny little hashtag will be interpreted. That said, let’s take a look at some of the most highly circulated hashtags from 2014, and see what we can glean from them.
A Few Titan Hashtags from 2014
After the unbelievably tragic shooting in California, a robust and very intense debate sprang up around this hashtag.
Women began sharing their own stories, men’s rights groups joined in, and a national conversation ensued that shined light on serious issues. If you represent a nonprofit or cause connected to feminism, did you use this hashtag to drive more awareness to your organization?
Some cause-based hashtags were so big that they took the world by storm! Take for example:
The Ice Bucket Challenge, or ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, went viral between July and August of 2014. Seemingly everyone on Facebook and Twitter were dumping buckets of freezing cold water over their heads in the name of charity. Even celebrities and world leaders got nominated and took up the challenge!
Since the summer, the ALS Association has received $115 million in donations, thanks to the hashtag and its viral reach. This proves hashtags and viral trends do have the power to make a sizable difference for nonprofits and the folks they serve.
But what happens if your nonprofit doesn’t fit the subject matter? A few nonprofits tried to recreate the success of the #IceBucketChallenge with varying degrees of success.
Take #TacoBeerChallenge for example. Eat a taco or drink a beer, then donate to any abortion rights fund, whether that’s Planned Parenthood or a local organization. What started as an ironic joke on Twitter by Andrea Grimes actually took off and started raising money for abortion rights. It wasn’t as much money as the ALS Association received, but money is money and it certainly helped the abortion rights cause.
So when should your nonprofit piggyback on a trending hashtag with your own? Before you do anything, make sure you really understand what the original hashtag stood for. So do your homework! You don’t want to wade into something, thinking it is one thing, and then have something very different suddenly linked to your cause.
If everything checks out, feel free to build on the trend with your own hashtag. As we said earlier, hashtags change and develop over time. It’s perfectly okay to build on one yourself.
Photo Courtesy of Mashable.com
On April 15th, 273 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Secondary School by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was launched to raise awareness, rescue the girls, and announce a zero-tolerance standard: schools will not be places of violence.
The hashtag exploded on social media, with world leaders joining the conversation.
This hashtag shows off the ability to bring the world together, around an issue or times of heartache, and combine that into a single, meaningful conversation. Social media can have a serious impact by expanding awareness and influencing people to take action.
To cap things off, something else to keep in mind is that once a hashtag goes global, or it’s connected to something that’s just too huge to really worry about being singled out or targeted in a really negative way, it’s relatively safe to give props, and let people know that your cause exists and is trying to help.
We hope this has been helpful for you, and also helped you gain a little more respect for hashtags, so that when the time is right, you can use the right one for your nonprofit without too much risk.
Now go change the world!
Has your organization used hashtags? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments!