The role of social media in the nonprofit/voluntary sector continues to evolve. Nonprofit organizations can use social media to fundraise, recruit volunteers, promote upcoming events, distribute resources or connect people to available programs. One thing that’s becoming clear is that social media is not simply a tool at the disposal of communications professionals in the sector, but rather a toolkit. One such tool in the social media toolkit is the hashtag, which can be used on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Hashtags are a way of categorizing a tweet or Instagram post so it is added to that online conversation. Adding a hashtag to your tweet or post makes it searchable! For example, if you want to read what people are saying about Canada Day, simply search #CanadaDay on whichever social media platform you happen to be using and you will be given a list of relevant posts.
Alberta nonprofits are becoming very adept at using social media to help achieve their mandate and communicate with stakeholders, and hashtags are one of the tools to help them succeed. There are a number of ways Alberta nonprofits are using hashtags. Here are a few examples:
Contest – Edmonton’s Bissell Centre recently had an Instagram photo contest to accompany a spring clothing drive they were hosting. They asked their followers to donate clothes and share a photo of their donation with the hashtag #clothes4bissell on Instagram, and they had prizes for the best photos. The #clothes4bissell hashtag successfully engaged Bissell Centre social media followers and helped collect a truckload of donations (and some great photos).
Conference or Event – In a few weeks Alberta’s nonprofit/voluntary sector will get together at Vitalize, Alberta’s Nonprofit Sector Conference. The hashtag #Vitalize2014 will help provide some order to the maze of knowledge transfer and networking. Conference delegates who want to effectively share a message with other delegates or presenters can do so by using the #Vitalize2014 hashtag on Twitter. Want to know what you missed in the other sessions? Search the hashtag and see what others thought.
Ongoing Initiative or Program – Volunteerville is another great use of the social media hashtag! This Volunteer Alberta program was launched during National Volunteer Week but is an ongoing initiative. When an organization or individual shares a photo or story of volunteerism on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #volunteerville, it will be posted to volunteerville.ca. In this instance the hashtag helps build a collective narrative about the impact of volunteerism in Alberta. More than half of Albertans volunteer, but it’s a story that goes largely untold. Until now!
Special Day – Every organization has certain days of the year that are extra meaningful. Some organizations will use a hashtag to accompany their social media posts to help raise awareness of a specific issue. Bell Canada, while not a nonprofit organization, is a perfect example. Once a year, they have Bell Let’s Talk Day, which raises awareness about the stigma associated with mental illness and raises money to support mental health initiatives across the country. The hashtag #BellLetsTalk is a huge part of the campaign and allows those on Twitter to follow along and join in the conversation.
These are just a handful of the ways hashtags are helping Alberta nonprofits reach a wider audience, build networks and achieve their mandates.
Is your organization active on social media? Do you use hashtags to your advantage? Tell us how!
Tim Henderson, Communications/Program Coordinator