How to Get the Most Out of Your Hashtags for Alumni Relations

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Hashtags are a little bit like souffles.

Everybody thinks they’re great, but for their creators, they need lots of work, attention, and experience to avoid a disastrous implosion.

But with the news that Facebook has joined Instagram and Twitter in incorporating hashtags, it’s critical that advancement teams understand how to use them effectively.

To ensure that your hashtags don’t become flops, in this post we’ll go step by step and show you the best practices of how to successfully use hashtags for alumni relations and advancement.

Here’s how to do it the right way.

Keep It Simple

So you’re ready to create a hashtag—but what do you actually write?

From the many examples we’ve seen, the general best practice is to keep the hashtag as short as possible while still conveying the full intended message. Over-abbreviating can lead to low adoption, because it makes the hashtag hard to remember and associate with the targeted topic.

Great instances of schools getting it right can be found everywhere – for instance, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is currently using #RPI17 to great success with their incoming students. Just six characters is enough to get the message across, but the hashtag is not overly short or confusing, because the school has an established, unique abbreviation.

#Pareunion from Phillips Andover is another good example, because although the abbreviation of the school name is not unique, the use of the full word “reunion” made it easy to remember and use in relation to the institution.

Meanwhile, my school, Tufts University, commonly chooses to go with hashtags like #Tufts2017, because the school has a short name that is not commonly abbreviated. In contrast, #Tu17 would not be a good choice. Few people would understand or remember the hashtag, because the school is almost never referred to as “T.U.”

Promote Hashtags Early and Often

Ok, so maybe you don’t need to go as far as promoting your hashtags with posters in restrooms at your next reunion.

But the underlying principle is still true – the biggest way you can influence the adoption of your hashtag in the social media sphere is through a consistent promotional campaign.

For example, Peter Anglea of Bob Jones University recently wrote a EDUniverse blog post about how BJU crushed their hashtag marketing campaign for this year’s graduation (see screenshot).

The key for BJU was a mixture of clear, simple “real life” marketing (in the form of posters, etc.) and the aggressive use of the hashtag on the school’s social media accounts and website.

Another possibility for promoting your hashtag is coordinating with faculty and administrators that use Twitter to get them involved as well.

This doesn’t work for every institution (unfortunately, not every school president or teacher is on Twitter) but Rice University’s president David Leebron, for instance, has contributed to many of the school’s hashtags and has helped to create the buzz that every hashtagger looks for.  

Avoid Common Social Media Mistakes

Just as important with hashtags is knowing what not to do and how to avoid the most common errors that victimize every hashtag user, not just advancement officers.

Many frequent mistakes are well explained in this Rival IQ blog post from Danielle Prager, but I’ll highlight two cardinal sins that she identifies:

  • #Hash #tagging #every #single #word #in #your #post

  • #Hashtaggingareallylongsentencebecauseyourschoolisawesome

Just don’t do it. When in doubt, leave it short, and keep it to a maximum of a few hashtags per post.

Caution! Using Generic Hashtags

Of course, hashtags aren’t just created by schools, and occasionally, it can be great to jump in on an existing hashtag that isn’t school specific.

For example, we love what Wheaton College did with this tweet, commenting on another tweet using the hashtag #makerspaces. The University of Toronto also uses this technique frequently and terrifically – for instance, it recently combined a school-specific and generic hashtag when tweeting about a professor’s comments on the unrest in Egypt.

However, be cautious with doing this too often. Most of the time, you want to be using hashtags that are specific to your institution, so that they help your constituents connect and allow you to measure the “buzz” you generate.

The bottom line is that hashtags are just another piece of the puzzle for advancement officers. Some institutions now use hashtags for every major event or topic, and others use them hardly or not at all.

But no matter what, if you choose to start hashtagging, remember to have fun with it. After all, the whole point is to connect with your constituents and add to the great conversations they’re already having.

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