You’ve seen those tweets—the ones where #every #other #word has a #hashtag. Because a hashtag draws attention to a person, place, or thing, tweets overloaded with hashtags are confusing. According to a recent report from Hubspot, tweets with two hashtags get 21 percent more engagement than those with three or more. Not really a surprising factoid. But, there is more to the science of hashtags than just numbers, especially in a crisis. Here are some quick tips on how to use Twitter hashtags in a crisis.
1. Establish one main hashtag at the onset of an incident. You may want to strategically add subsequent hashtags during an incident for specific information, but have one main tag that is less than 15 characters (preferably less than ten) that will go on every tweet you post during the incident.
The main reason for one consistent hashtag on every tweet is so that all information on the incident can be monitored on a keyword search. Twitter, Hootsuite, and most social media management systems (SMMS) have the ability to search and collect a hashtag feed. According to a report from RadiumOne, 41 percent of people click on hashtags as a source of information.
2. If you string words together, capitalize the first letter of each word. This simple technique makes your hashtag easier to read if multiple words are used. Don’t worry if the media or public does not follow your lead here. Most SMMS search functions will catch the hashtag whether it is capitalized or not. Your purpose is to make the hashtag easier to read at a glance.
3. Make your hashtag easy to remember and easy to spell. Even though the incident is taking place in an obscure location somewhere, it’s probably not a good idea to use the town as your main hashtag. Keep the tag incident-related, and treat it like a keyword. Ask yourself what term people would search if they wanted to get the latest information on the incident.
Also, run a Twitter search of your hashtag before giving it the final nod to be sure it isn’t a general term already in use. That isn’t necessarily a deal breaker (such as using #Boston in the marathon bombings), but keep in mind you may be competing for the audience.
4. Monitor the hashtag on your SMMS during the incident. One of the biggest advantages of using a hashtag on every tweet is that it produces a stream of information you can monitor. Besides giving the public and media a term to follow, it gives you the ability to monitor the public space as well. Your hashtag feed can also provide valuable material during post-crisis evaluation.
5. Respond to legitimate questions and needs of those using the hashtag. One given in an incident: if you use social media, people will use your hashtag and @username as a source of getting the info they need. A hashtag in a crisis will become a sort of customer service channel. Be sure you have dedicated staff monitoring your social media channels and responding to legitimate requests for information.
Don’t be discouraged or frustrated if the same questions pop up frequently. Remember, Twitter is real-time. In a crisis, people may not take the time to scour the whole hashtag feed to get an immediate answer to a pressing need. Also, don’t be afraid to ask people to retweet or share your information, and encourage them to use the hashtag.
It is important to note that detractors and trolls may latch on to your hashtag during an incident. This cannot be helped and it certainly is not an excuse to ditch a hashtag or quit talking to the public via social media. Hashtags can become important keywords in a crisis. Use them well and they will help you get your messages out to the public quickly.