When I first started seeing hashtags I was probably like most in thinking they were just kind of silly.  I was wondering what could Hahstagpossibly be the benefit.  But once you click one or two you should immediately see some great possibilities as you are jettisoned into a whole new world of conversations taking place.  I was pretty excited this past week to see hashtags announced as a new feature for Facebook.  In fact, they just went live for my account this morning and are working very nicely.

The typical mistake in my opinion is to simply place hashtags in the world of “simple search”.  Hashtags directly link to a ‘conversation’ going on and typically are more “targeted” than just searching for a phrase or topic.  For example, when I search or click a hashtag I’m going to typically find social conversations going on.  On the other hand, searching a phrase or topic in a search box will generate a list of website destinations for me.

Obviously just clicking a hashtag or including the one provided by others in a post is pretty simple to do.  But creating and getting hashtags to trend and be effective for you can be a different story.  Here are some things I have discovered and experienced so far for effective use and creation:

  1. Keep them short, sweet, and fun – This is especially true when posting to Twitter because of the 140 character limit that could quickly be used up.  The other reason is that hashtags are best served when they are fun and/or thought-provoking.  #ComeTo ChurchToday may not be as impactful as say #ChurchTime
  2. Check to see if the hashtag is being used already – There is a difference with simply wanting to be a part of the current conversation or starting one of your own.  If you want your message or thoughts to become a part of an existing conversation then use a hashtag that is popular for that topic.  These are typically generic topic phrases (i.e. #Catholic).  If you want to start your own unique conversation then you want to do a simple search on the social networks (i.e. Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Facebook) or at Hashtags.org to see what’s being used.  Although you can not “own” or control who uses your hashtag, using one in use already that has items not within your intended theme could stop your conversation dead in its tracks right out of the gate.
  3. Tell people about your hashtag – Like anything on the web, you should never overly rely on people just “discovering” you. You have to go out and tell people.  Hashtags are quickly becoming a part of a great deal of mainstream marketing and people are already understanding what they are and how to use them.  So make them a part of your communications for events or initiatives and point out the benefits.  For example, add a little line in your promotion with “Join the conversation and share your photos at our dance with #ourfunchurchdance”.  You can get creative here too and offer a prize/drawing for whoever  posts using the hashtag to get the momentum started.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to one social network – This past week we held an event through work where we had been communicating a particular hashtag.  My focus was on it evolving through Twitter and was hoping to capture numerous perspectives of experiences at the event.  What happened was even better because the hashtag started popping up on Instagram throughout the event and people literally showing the fun they were having.  Once you put it out there . . . watch it on all the social networks.

The bottom line is that hashtags have a place within our Church communities whether it be for cultivating conversation online or helping promote events and/or messages.  Hashtags can be a huge part of evangelizing online too.  But they also require thought to be effective.

What has been your experience with hashtags?  What best practices have you found?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).