“Hashtag activism” occurs when groups organise conversations on social media through a hashtagged word, phrase or sentence with social or political significance.
Successful hashtag campaigns see exponential growth and enriched discourse on an issue, while also converting new heightened awareness into a wider social movement that inspires people to take action, both online and offline. Hashtag campaigning is about using hashtags to strategically frame, convene, and drive key conversations. A well-chosen hashtag will positively define the values associated with your political position, and draw more people to your side of the debate.
When choosing a hashtag for your campaign, be strategic. Ensure that it is easily identifiable with your campaign, is clear and concise, and encourages participation. To avoid confusion or potential pitfalls, search social media platforms to make sure your chosen hashtag has not been used elsewhere. There are steps you can take to ensure your hashtag gets noticed:
- Leverage supporters: Contact your most active supporters, outlining the plan to launch your new hashtag. Ask for their support, by using the hashtag during a specified time period for the launch, and then afterwards to build momentum.
- Influencers: Invite influential voices on your issue to join the conversation and use the campaign hashtag. The more voices you have, the more likely you will succeed in cutting through the noise.
- Cross-campaign: Identify any opportunities to promote and amplify your hashtag. For example, if you are printing campaign flyers, consider asking people to join the conversation using #_________. When engaging with traditional media or sending press releases, include your hashtag and social media usernames.
- Thunderclap: This tool allows a single message to be mass-shared at an allocated time and date. You write a message you want shared (in this case including your hashtag), pick a time and date, and set a goal for the number of people you want to sign up to pledge their support. When you reach that goal, your message is published concurrently on all the social media accounts of those who signed up. This is a potential way to get your campaign hashtag “trending”, if enough people sign up, and it can be useful for launches and key events.
Alternatively, it might be more beneficial for your campaign to “piggyback” on an established hashtag where discussions on your campaign issue are already taking place. It is worth doing some research to find out what works best for your campaign.
#BlackLivesMatter, the powerful phrase synonymous with the struggle for racial justice, has its roots in the protest movement that occurred as a call to action after the murder of African American teenager Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman in July 2013. #BlackLivesMatter was used not only to build awareness and enrich the discussion, but also to organise protests in a combined effort to shine a spotlight on racial profiling and police brutality in the US and build solidarity across the globe.
The movement expanded rapidly, in part because of the low barrier to entry offered by social media. Anyone with a smartphone and social media account could align themselves with the cause and join the movement. From its initial appearance in mid-2013 through to March 2016, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter appeared on Twitter almost 11.8 million times. The momentum of online and offline activity has seen Black Lives Matter develop into a chapter-based activist organisation, and the movement to bring about real racial justice continues to grow.