Marketing 101: #Hashtags

Is your social media #effective? We’ll show you how to make the most of this tool in three easy steps.

By Corey Whaley Last Updated: January 21, 2021

When you were young, it was simply referred to as the number or pound sign. But today the # symbol has become a cultural juggernaut, propelling brands and causes to new heights in the social media stratosphere. The hashtag has quickly taken its place for internet users of all ages as a simple and effective tool for bringing communities together online. And, believe it or not, choosing the right hashtags and strategizing their use can help you build your school brand, connect your stakeholders, and communicate important information to your community.

It may seem like an internet fad, but the hashtag isn’t going away anytime soon. According to social media researcher Dan Zarella, tweets containing hashtags are 55% more likely to be retweeted. And Twitter’s own research has found that engagement for brands that use hashtags is at least 50% higher than those that don’t.

District Brand Breakdown, our 2019 SchoolCEO analysis of over 1,250 school districts’ digital brands, revealed that 40% don’t use hashtags at all. Of the 60% that do, only 16%  use a branded hashtag consistently across all of their district media channels. If numbers like this reflect a national trend, then countless districts aren’t taking advantage of this simple tool.

But a hashtag isn’t as easy as just putting a # sign in front of a random word or phrase. You’ll want to engage your audience with hashtags that speak to your vision and keep students front and center.


Getting Started

Originally created for use on Twitter, a hashtag is a word or phrase, without spaces, that’s preceded immediately by the # symbol. Hashtags not only categorize and index topics, but also connect movements and communities online.

Fans of a television show, sports team, or political candidate can now find one another online through common hashtags—and fans of your schools can do the same. Here’s some quick tips to get you started:

Step 1 - Create one hashtag to be the new online motto for your entire district. Choose something that speaks to your district’s unity, vision, strength, promise, etc. For example: #NYSDTogether or #VikingStrong

Step 2 - Use your district hashtag on relevant social media posts across all platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.).

Step 3 - Encourage building leaders, teachers, and community members to use your district hashtag whenever they post.


#Unify

If you give your community a message they can rally behind, they’ll do it. As you know, calling on your stakeholders as a team means using the right vocabulary—common words or phrases that unite everyone around your district brand.

When Superintendent Matt Schmidt of Michigan’s Bangor Township Schools wanted to unify his district, he looked to hashtags. “When our marketing committee met for the first time, we said, Hey, we know teachers are leaving for the summer—what’s one thing we can come up with and really commit to in order to keep our staff and students connected? And it was something as simple as a hashtag—so we came up with #bobcatnation to rally our community around.”

Images: Example of Bangor Township Schools using their hashtag @bobcatnation in a Facebook post celebrating student accomplishments on the athletic field as well as an example from Superintendent Matt Schmidt's Twitter feed.

Schmidt and his team don’t just use their mascot-inspired hashtag on social media; they even give out #bobcatnation T-shirts to students and staff. “That has taken off like gangbusters,” he tells us. “Sometimes it’s the small things you don’t want to miss—taking that small thing and committing to it and doing it really well. When it comes to marketing, there are a million things you could do—figure out which ones are going to get you a return on your investment, not just dollar wise, but time-wise.” Sometimes marketing really can be as simple as a hashtag and a commitment to using it.

#Amplify

One of the greatest benefits to using hashtags in your social media posts is their ability to easily connect the stories you share to an overall theme. Many districts choose hashtags based around unity, strength, vision, or the future—bold, understandable themes that will earn buy-in from as many stakeholders as possible. By connecting these stories with a common hashtag, you’re making sure your audience sees everything you share as part of your larger school story.

Dr. Nisha Patel, second-year superintendent of Fox C-6 School District in Missouri, inherited her district’s #FoxC6Strong hashtag from her predecessor, but she’s finding new ways to harness its power. “One goal has been to really streamline things and make a laser-like focus on what is truly our belief as a district,” she says.

“Everybody in our district has a unique story. My communications director and I have been very strategic in sharing these stories. Every month, I would like us to highlight a support staff individual,” Patel shares. “My main, overarching goal is to increase collective efficacy in our district—meaning that if we believe our kids will be successful, they will be. We want to be able to amplify student voices as well as amplify our staff and community voices. And we’re doing that by sharing stories with our #FoxC6Strong hashtag.”

Image: Both the offical Fox C-6 Twitter account as well as Dr. Nisha Patel's personal Twitter utilize the #FoxC6Strong hashtag to highlight their teachers and staff.

#Diversify

Hashtags may seem simple, but you can strategize their use to share a diverse array of content. Creating a story series that’s connected by one common hashtag, for example, can point your audience in the right direction. Just don’t overdo it. Twitter suggests using no more than two hashtags per post.

Virginia’s Chesapeake Public Schools shares their most inspiring moments by creating unique hashtags for their serial posts. They use #InspireCPS to tie most district posts together, whether they’re highlighting a teacher or showing off a new program. But for specific series, CPS uses hashtags like #CPSHolidayHappenings to set their posts apart and bring their community together.

Image: In one Twitter post, Chesapeake Public Schools highlights their bus drivers while using the #InspireCPS hashtag. In another, the district celebrates a toy donation with the hashtag #CPSHolidayHappenings.

In New York’s Batavia City School District, Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. turned to hashtags to inspire hope in his community during the pandemic. In the fall, his schools launched #CantMasktheBataviaPride—a social media campaign which serves to unify the district and its supporters. Batavia asks community members and businesses to share their support on social media by posting photos or videos of themselves with the hashtag. This doesn’t just inspire unity, it also amplifies different stories from across the district. “We’re just trying to do anything we can to generate some kind of positivity,” Soler says. “There’s a lot of negative out there, so we’re doing the best we can to keep spreading hope.”

Image: Both the Batavia City School District and their Superintendent, Dr. Anibal Soler, Jr. utilize the hashtag #CantMasktheBataviaPride to showcase their community's school spirit on Twitter.

Recap

#Unify your district by creating one overarching hashtag for your posts—something that ties  your communications together and tells your audience who you are.

#Amplify school and community stories by using hashtags consistently and across all platforms.

#Diversify your posts by creating unique hashtags for serialized content or special campaigns.


schoolceo_logo_light_bg_-1

SchoolCEO is free for K-12 school leaders. Subscribe below to have a digital copy of the most recent edition of SchoolCEO sent to your inbox.