Social media use among adults has skyrocketed nearly tenfold over the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 7 percent of American adults were using social media sites in 2005, but in 2015, a majority are—65 percent, or about two-thirds of the adult population. This means that if your church or ministry doesn’t have a social media strategy, then you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to reach members of your community.
Wondering how to do that? As a starting point, it’s smart to get a handle on how hashtags work, which have become an essential tool for communicating on social media. A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the number/pound symbol (#) that you can include in social media posts to start conversations, promote events, make a topic searchable, and more. Better yet, they can be used on just about every social network.
Let’s look at some effective methods for including them in your social media efforts:
1. Be Specific
Name a specific ministry, event, or group. A vague hashtag like #church will likely just get lost in the shuffle and won’t highlight the unique resources and opportunities you have to offer. Let’s look at a hypothetical example:
A church called Valley Chapel is just getting started on social media. This church might use #ValleyChapel as a general hashtag, and other hashtags could be built off of that, like #ValleyChapelKids for the children’s ministry, and so on. Simple enough.
However, even specific hashtags can be ineffective if they’re hard to understand. To continue our example, maybe Valley Chapel is hosting a conference in 2016 and wants to promote it. To save space, they’ve abbreviated their hashtag for the conference to #VCC16. But what does VCC stand for? For a user unfamiliar with Valley Chapel, it’s anybody’s guess. That’s why it’s a good idea to make your communication as clear as possible by avoiding acronyms and other shorthand, which can be easily misinterpreted.
2. Build Awareness for Church Events and Activities
Throwing a concert that’s open to the community? Have a high school retreat coming up? Get a head start on spreading the word by creating a hashtag in advance of the event, and encourage members of your ministry or church community to share the news on their own social media accounts. As TheCreativePastor.com explains:
“Hashtags are a great way to create buzz and encourage people to share what’s happening at church on their social networks. When their friends and followers curiously click these automatically generated links, it connects them to everything you and other users have posted related to that tag. This gets really neat when users tag event photos, sermon points, and videos from your ministry. Most major social media platforms support hashtags, so encourage your congregation to share everywhere.”
It may take some time to get your congregation on board with sharing hashtags, so remind them that by including relevant hashtags on your website or in weekly bulletins, announcement videos, sermon slides, or other media.
3. Know Your Hashtag Etiquette
Finally, let’s wrap up with some general tips and best practices for using hashtags:
- Create a hashtag specifically for your church or ministry and use it consistently.
- Don’t use too many hashtags at once. A general guideline is one to three per post.
- Keep single hashtags short and simple. (For instance, #ThisOneIsTooLongAndHardToRead.) Use capitalization to improve readability.
- Do a preliminary search to make sure a hashtag you intend to use isn’t already in use for another purpose.
Remember, hashtags are a two-way street. You can create one as a starting point for online conversations and information-sharing, but once a hashtag is out there, it also gives people an opportunity to initiate an interaction and connect with your church—maybe to ask a question about an event (When time does the concert start? How much does it cost to attend the women’s retreat?) or learn more about a ministry (What night is youth group?). So, once you start using hashtags, be ready to engage with a wider online community.