Five Tips for Raising Social Justice Awareness Via Online Social Media Hashtags by Jenny Korn

An initial step to bring justice to an issue is to draw attention to the issue.  In this blog, I focus on raising social awareness in public media campaigns that utilize online hashtags.  Drawing from experiential learning and past research, I provide five tips for social justice educators to use hashtags for their own causes.

Conduct a hashtag review

            Because hashtags have been popular in use now for nearly a decade, performing due diligence on potential hashtags is necessary.  When choosing a hashtag to promote a cause,  search for that hashtag to check how it was used previously.  The search should be conducted not only in Twitter (which has a built-in search service), but also in larger online searches (using Yahoo or Google) to see how the media have covered the hashtag, if at all.  The search results might show that a hashtag was used last over a year or two ago, which means it is up for grab to revive as your own.  Other times, individuals prefer creating a new hashtag with no history at all.  For example, by examining hashtags similar to ones you might want to use, you might be inspired to come up with a clever interpretation on an existing hashtag to make your own hashtag.  Some activists find that a desired hashtag is in use already, so they then join that existing conversation online; in those cases, people may attempt to hijack the hashtag, filling the hashtag stream with their own perspective on an issue.  Whatever hashtag you choose, you will now be aware of other hashtags that might be like yours.

Create a concise hashtag

            After a review of hashtags has occurred, you are informed and ready to decide to create a hashtag.  Because the length of tweets is limited, the shorter the hashtag, the more likely other online users will include the hashtag in their posts.  To make combinations of words easier to read within a hashtag, I recommend using CamelCase, in which the first letter of each word is capitalized while the rest of the word is in lowercase: #ThisIsAnExampleOfCamelCase.  Choosing a hashtag that states an action, like #RejectProp9, communicates the stance and cause efficiently and effectively.  Using abbreviations is common in hashtags, and even if the abbreviation is not widely known, the context of the hashtag in relation to your entire post should provide enough information for the reader to glean the meaning. 

Append the hashtag to pertinent information

            While enthusiasm about a hashtag has many individuals working to increase the quantity of the use of a specific hashtag, quality still counts.  This advice goes to individuals that may be using a personal online account instead of a professional one that is dedicated only to posts about social justice.  Accounts attached to organizations, like Facebook pages and official Twitter usernames, should already be producing content related to social activism to which a hashtag addition makes sense.  Individual users may be so eager to use the hashtag that they choose to append the hashtag to every post, regardless of its pertinence to the actual cause.  Savvy online readers will notice whether the hashtag is thriving or dying.  More is fine, as long as the online post + specific hashtag = still issue-oriented.  When in doubt, if you’ve followed the above advice about creating an action-based hashtag, you can just post the hashtag by itself, if you’re trying to remind the public about your issue, e.g., #RejectProp9. 

Use the hashtag consistently across online social media

            Once the hashtag and content have been vetted for usability and pertinence, it is time to introduce the hashtag to as many online social media outlets for which you have the time.  At the minimum, Twitter is a necessary, important place for bringing attention to your issue.  Facebook too allows for hashtags, and if you click on the hashtag within Facebook, you will be taken to another page full of other Facebook posts by users that publish publicly and that have utilized that hashtag too.  Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Flickr are all popular social media sites whose users are accustomed to hashtags.  FourSquare is a location-based social media site that also utilizes hashtags, but again, remember to make the FourSquare check-in pertinent to your issue, e.g., checking in to a news office where you’ll be promoting your activism.  LinkedIn is a social media site that emphasizes professional, as opposed to personal, connections.  Some (most?) social justice educators believe that activism should not be confined only to the personal, so if you’re of like mind, feel free to attach your hashtag to your LinkedIn posts too.  The point here is to remember that multiple sites exist for your hashtag usage; utilize the ones where you are hanging out already, and create accounts where you want an online, public presence about your issue to be known. 

Blog about the hashtag (or assign it as homework)

            Blogging has been around longer than the hashtag, and that means many blog editors are hungry for content for their sites.  Volunteer to write about your cause on blogs that are likely to be read by others in related activism.  If you don’t have time to blog, consider assigning blogs as an assignment for the populations with which you work (if appropriate).  Each individual that participates in the assignment will receive a publication to add to the person’s résumé.  Assignments could elaborate upon each of the aforementioned points above, including how the hashtag was chosen, how the hashtag has been appended to specific content, and how the hashtag has been picked up by local and national news media and used across Facebook, Twitter, and other online social media sites (each news media outlet and site would be a different blog).  Each blog, whether written by you or others, provides additional awareness to your cause and related action-oriented hashtag.

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