“Standardize hashtags”- Ugh, here we go again. Another call for standardizing the use of hashtags during crisis. A report by the United Nations was just released, “Hashtag Standards For Emergencies”. Patrick Meier’s recent blog post provides excellent summary and background information on the report. But, I think they missed the boat, or at least one oar is out of the water.
This topic has been debated ever since I started using Twitter and began chatting with other crisis leaders. In fact, it became a target for snarky comments whenever a #SMEM newbie mentioned “standardization” during weekly #SMEMchat sessions. I applaud the United Nation’s efforts in evaluating effective Twitter communications during emergencies, and the desire to have better message monitoring capability through mandate. But, I think they neglected the opportunity to emphasize the most important concepts in creating and monitoring viral, authoritative agency hashtags; Providing credible, supportive, consistent and engaging information during crisis.
Hashtags go viral daily for a variety of reasons. Humor, irony, wit, sex appeal, emotion, user influence (number of followers), location, and most importantly the content of the accompanying message enable popular hashtags. During a high visibility crisis other key-yet basic- influences come into play as well, like; empathy, instruction, damage/impact, unique information and reassurance. But, the quality, credibility, messenger popularity, interest and usefulness of the accompanying messages remains critical factors in determining whether or not a hashtag gains traction with those directly and indirectly impacted.
So, my thoughts on effective hashtag creation and use during crisis;
- Look first. See what people are saying, and what hashtags may already be trending at a local level. If they are, use them.
- Craft your messages and hashtags to notify and engage the most important group of people – those directly and indirectly impacted by the crisis.
- Keep repeating the desired hashtags.
- Monitor desired hashtags AND similar hashtags with misspellings/abbreviations
- Combine the geographical location/abbreviation and incident type in a hashtag (#Acneschoolshooting, #WAtornado, #LAquake, #Torontoflood, #Bellinghamblizzard).
- Keep hashtags short, but easy to decipher.
- Use the same hashtag in EVERY relevant tweet.
- Include other popular hashtags along with the desired hashtag in official messages (room permitting).
- Be mindful of hashtags that may have lost local relevancy/effectiveness due to being inadvertently or purposefully “hijacked” by power influencers. This phenomenon may require migration to another hashtag (very dicey).
- Frequently tweet the “official” hashtags you are using for the incident.
- Consider adopting and using hashtags already trending, especially if the locals are using it. It’s often easier to go where the people are, rather than trying to “push a string”.
Of course, if your agency has a well established presence in the community (and on social media) and you engage quickly you stand a much better chance of your voice (hashtag) being adopted by others. I, for one, would not want @TMZ establishing the most popular hashtag for my disaster. The choice is yours.