|Copyright Jon Hart Studios|
So Facebook is now allowing hashtags. People who have hated seeing them in their newsfeeds, claiming the Twitter phenomenon had no place in Facebook land, will now have to suffer more of them. But actually, this is a good thing for your small nonprofit. Really. It can enhance your social communications. How? Well, first let's look at what a hashtag is and does.
Where did the hashtag come from?
Hashtags were developed by Chris Messina, an open source and open standards programming advocate, who wanted a way to monitor interests on Twitter. The hashtag is interactive on Twitter, which means if you click on one, the stream will show all of the posts containing that hashtag. I saw this function used effectively during floods in Australia when the police and other agencies used hashtags to disseminate necessary directions to the public and to get immediate responses to needed help.
How will it work on Facebook?
As with Twitter and Instagram, the hashtags on FB will be interactive - when you click on one, a pop-up window will display, showing you all of the recent posts using that hashtag. You will also be able to write a post directly to that stream. For a good run-down on the how and why of hashtags on FB, I refer you to this post by Ignite Social Media.
Why use hashtags?
With limited resources, most small nonprofits have probably invested more heavily on Facebook than on Twitter, so using a hashtag will take a little getting used to. But it's worth it, because what the hashtag does for Twitter users is threefold:
- Allows them to narrow the stream down to a specific interest
- Allows them to interact more effectively with those following the hashtag
- Allows them to collect real data on specific interests
Now your small NP will be able to do the same thing for disasters, for events, for campaigns.
How to use the hashtag
Pre-event. Use the hashtag to initiate and then follow something specific over a period of hours or days. For example, if you are having things happen in a countdown leading up to a big announcement. Then you might do a post or two a day with the hashtag. My last post was about rolling out a new look. This would be a perfect opportunity to post pictures and teasers leading up to the grand unveiling.
Reporting. Use the hashtag to report on something happening, like a disaster you are helping out with. Several animal rescue groups did this during the tornadoes in the midwest: they shared information about rescued animals, shelters, and needed supplies.
Information. Use the hashtag to find out what your community thinks about a specific issue, like pending law changes that could affect how your NP operates or your own recent policy changes.
Fundraising. Use the hashtag to highlight a current campaign, stories about the work you're doing, how much the campaign is raising, how people can help, etc.
Recognize. Use the hashtag to spotlight volunteers and staff members who have stepped up during the year to provide support above and beyond what was expected.
Monitoring. Search on a hashtag created by someone else to find out what kinds of conversations are going on around the subject. For example, I keep a column on Tweetdeck open for the hashtag #nonprofit for news and links.
How not to use the hashtag
Frequently. Be sparing in your use of this tool. It will work best for you when it's not over-used.
Finally, here's are two uses for the hashtag that I never see mentioned: identification and humor.
When I use hashtags, I will sometimes use them to identify the subject of my post. For example: #writers. This lets the people reading it know it's directed specifically at writers, so non-writers can ignore the link or picture I may have attached to it. I've gotten adroit at recognizing these in other peoples' posts and ignoring them when they don't apply to me, which saves me time.
And a lot of people on Twitter use them to make jokes or indicate they are not serious about the post. On Twitter, we're familiar with #justsayin, #failwhale, and others. If you can create your own, specific to your NP, you'll have added value to your posts and your brand.
Are there other uses for hashtags on Facebook? Very likely. If you know of some I haven't covered, please mention them in the comments.