You’ve seen them everywhere, from Twitter, to Instagram, to t-shirts, to memes, but what exactly is the point of the hashtag? More importantly, are hashtags really important when creating social media posts for your local government? Believe it or not, the hashtag can be a powerful component of a social communication strategy. That little symbol can make a big difference in the reach and effectiveness of your message. If you’re ready to take your social strategy to the next level, it’s time to understand the power of the hashtag.
What is a Hashtag?
Let’s start by explaining what exactly a hashtag (#) is. Hashtags can be used for many purposes, but essentially, they allow you to associate your post with a specific topic so that people who aren’t already following your profile, but are interested in a topic, can find your post. In this way, hashtags help individuals, brands, and even local governments, to increase their followers, and amplify the reach of their social posts. Hashtags are most often used on Twitter and Instagram, but you may find them occasionally used on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.
In the example below, the Town of Amherst, MA is promoting their local trails with a tweet that includes #hike and #AmherstMA, and the catchy, tagline-like hashtag, #showusyourhike
These hashtags will help Twitter users in the Amherst area, who enjoy outdoor activities but aren’t already following the town on Twitter, to see this tweet and learn about the area’s conservation areas and trails.
Hashtags also create groups of relevant content. Social media users can click on the hashtag and be redirected to a page of posts that use the same hashtag. In this way, hashtags almost categorize information for you, which is another reason why they are so popular. From the example above, clicking on the hashtag #AmherstMA takes you to a page of all posts that have used that hashtag, allowing the Twitter user to easily find other posts about their community—and not all from the same account. For example, members of the community and the media in Amherst have used the #AmherstMA hashtag. In the photo below from Amherst, MA, one community member tweets "New welcoming and wayfinding signs could come to #AmherstMA later this year" while another tweets "My gym #trailrunning #wmass #AmherstMA"
Find a Relevant, Trending Hashtag
The easiest way to create buzz for your local community is to follow the trends. Hashtags like #LocalGov, #Engage2Act, #ShopLocal, and #eParticipation generate quite a bit of attention already, so by using those hashtags, your community can be linked to an ongoing trend.
Create a New, Trend-Worthy Hashtag
In order to generate a popular hashtag, you want to be sure that others will be aware of, interact with, and use your new hashtag. This means you want to stay simple, specific, and short. The shorter the hashtag, the better. Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet, so if your hashtag is 80 of those precious words, you may want to rethink the length. However, you also want to ensure that your hashtag is clear about what it represents, like #Gov2, which is referencing egovernment. In this example from the Beaumont, Alberta Instagram account, to celebrate the town’s Canada Day fireworks display, they have incorporated the custom hashtag #OurBeaumont.
Events and Campaigns
Attaching a hashtag to an event in your community is the perfect way to gain attention and facilitate active communication. Sharing your event hashtag at your event will allow your community members to engage during and after the event, as well. Not only will this shed light on your local community, but also give your citizens the opportunity to share photos, thoughts, and opinions of your community and event. For example, in the tweet below, the Town of Castle Rock, CO uses #BikeToWorkDay to promote its local event.
Using national holidays as a bridge between you and your local community can also be beneficial. In the example below from Draper City, UT, in an Instagram post regarding the annual Haunted Hollow event, they have included the hashtag #halloween. We have created a social media holiday calendar to share the holidays in each month that can help promote your community.
Hashtags can only do their job if the community is aware of them. Things like paid promotions, blogs, email campaigns, and press releases can all help you to achieve this goal and earn your community that added attention.
Formatting Best Practices
While hashtags allow a great deal of creativity, there are some formatting tips that you can follow.
- Be Specific: The most important tip we can give you is to be sure that your hashtag is clear about what it represents. If you are not specific enough, you may not get the appropriate attention and could leave your followers confused.
- Punctuation: When using a hashtag, punctuation should not be included. When you complete your hashtag successfully and type a space, you will see a link has been created by the platform. However, if you include punctuation in this hashtag, you will see that the link will not be created successfully, making your hashtag meaningless.
- Capitalization: There is no proper way to capitalize hashtags. We suggest using camel case, which is easier to read. For example, use #LocalGov rather than #localgov. Following this system will eliminate confusion and provide clarity for your followers.
Want to do more to enhance your social strategy? Download our free eBook, the Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Local Government, by clicking the link below.