Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Using a Hashtag to Create a Movement

Twitter is a formidable platform. When it is used for good, there is no greater viral. 

The most powerful symbol on the Internet is this #, the Twitter hashtag. It represents relevant keywords or phrases that anyone can search, then jump into the conversation. 

Using the search tool or by viewing the hashtag list of what is trending right at this moment, you can find breaking news, tips, opinions, election results, popular conversations, or just random stuff any second of any day. 

There are hashtags created to inject some fun, such as #AdviceFromMyPet #MomQuotes #TwoThingsThatDontMix #DisneyPickUpLines or #UnlikelySequel.

There are hashtags that will show up and trend during a high profile event, such as the Super Bowl #leftshark.

People (and companies) try to use hashtags all the time to create followers, such as #FF (Follow Friday), #tbt (Throwback Thursday), or just #love.

#JeSuisCharlie created a worldwide movement after the 2015 shooting at the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. In English, it means I Am Charlie, and it represents standing up to those who want to silence freedom of speech. It was a hashtag used to mobilize citizen journalists and to honor the integrity of the written word.

#BlackLivesMatter became a household phrase and has been used outside of Twitter as much as on the platform. It is a term that grew out of the disturbing trend of black men dying at the hands of police across the United States. It morphed into a civil rights movement to engage the conversation of how black citizens are being marginalized and oppressed through economic and systematic targeting.

We also witnessed back in 2011 during Egypt's revolution to oust President Hosni Mubarak where Twitter was used to mobilize protesters and as a witness to the events.

However, it was the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests that put Twitter at the top for creating a movement. In a country where Internet was banned, where the only source of news was state-run media, virtual private networks and Twitter were how protesters were able to inform the rest of the world about their plight. But it was #Neda that put the protest into every search engine and every North American news channel. Despite how the Iranian government denied it was brutalizing its citizens, when the image of Neda Agha-Soltan being shot and dying in the street was posted to YouTube, the outrage could be heard around the globe.

Twitter is a powerful instrument for the transmedia toolbox, if it's used right. There is no sure-fire recipe, except that each project has to be evaluated on its own in order to create a strategy. Perhaps the best advice the Internet can give us is to think through the what-could-go-wrong possibilities before pushing it live.

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