Key to using social media for civic engagement is embracing the culture of a particular medium. On Twitter, hashtags – the addition of the pound or number sign in front of a word with no spaces – are a popular convention for semantic tagging. Hashtags are a user-created feature of Twitter, and the company rolled out hyperlinked searches using the tags due to their popularity.
Hashtagging is one of those Twitter conventions that a lot of casual users largely ignore, and that can confuse folks when used in status updates on Facebook or other social media sites. However, to veteran web managers, the notion of tagging for search id very familiar. For web communicators and public affairs professionals newer to Twitter, here are some of the best practices I’ve found for using hashtags in social media outreach (and no need to overdo it):
Use a tag to contextualize a tweet. Adding something like #recycling or #green to the end of an appropriate short message gives richer meaning and also outreaches to a specific community.
Location tags target your niche. Whether its an airport code like #yeg, a full city name or an abbreviation such as #sf, location-specific tags can help promote and build local community.
Go with what’s popular. When tweeting for civic engagement, you may want to create a tag around a recurring initiative. However, generally you want to use a tag that’s already popular, whether attached to an existing community or a breaking local news event. During an emergency situation, there may be reason to outreach using multiple tags. To ensure you’re using the most relevant tags, use the search function and compare possible tags or those you’re seeing in use to make sure you’re considering them in context with how others are using them. Consider relevancy and frequency of use by other Twitter members.