It was at least five years ago that my friend and perpetual early adopter Ed Marcelle first mentioned hashtags to me as a suggestion for our church. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it, and figured that the “pound sign” was just a passing fad for him and the culture as a whole. By the time Jimmy Fallon did this hilarious skit about hashtags, they were still kind of a confused joke for most people, a way to make any post a bit funnier. Today, there is a far greater understanding of how hashtags work and why they are helpful in pulling together content. But do they really matter for your church?
If you believe that the church is designed to be community of Christ-Followers on mission together to the culture around them, then yes . . . hashtags should matter to your church. Let me tell you why.
First, what is a hashtag? Simply put, when you add the # symbol before a word or phrase in a post on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you are linking that post to all other posts using that phrase. Still confused? Think of how google works, you type in a phrase and suggestions come up. It’s like that. Still confused? Think of an old card catalog in a library. You want a book about horses, you look up “h” and find books on horses. Still confused, go read this wiki on hashtags. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashtag Now that we’ve got that out of the way, why do hashtags actually matter to your church.
1. Hashtags enhance community.
How exactly can a “pound sign” online enhance community in the real world? Take a look around at any big church event (like a Christmas party or picnic). People will have their phones out and they will be taking pictures and posting them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The only people who will see those photos will be those who are friends with those people. But if you tell everyone to use the same hashtag like #TrinityChurchChristmasParty2015, then everyone at that party can look back over al the photos later and connect with new friends on social media. People who didn’t or couldn’t go to the party can still see the photos pop up on their social media feeds, click on the hashtag and see all related pictures. By seeing everyones pictures you are connecting to more people and your community is being enhanced.
2. Hashtags are a window into your real church.
Your website is a carefully written explanation of your church. The photos used are a cropped, color corrected, filtered and photo shopped. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s also fun to let people see average people taking average pictures with their iPhones and posting them on Facebook. When you encourage a church hashtag, you give your regular people a chance to see other regular people doing life together. It’s grassroots, unscripted, and unfiltered. It’s real.
3. Hashtags give your people a place to celebrate their church.
A couple of years ago, we started using the hashtag #thisismosaic . We pushed it hard, and people bought in. What has been really fun is too see all the ways that people celebrate their church community with the hashtag. Check out our hashtag and you’ll see everything from official church events to small groups enjoying a bbq together to service projects around the city. Looking at the photo stream on our hashtag really does give you a good window to into our church.
4. Hashtags are the new “word of mouth” advertising.
Nobody likes advertising. It feels forced. You wonder if it’s real or aspirational. But what if you could have people all over the place talking about how much they love their church? And what if it was being shared with hundreds maybe thousands of people all the time? That’s what a hashtag does.
So, how do get started?
First, pick a hashtag without much traffic. Just search the word with # in front of it. For example, when Mosaic was picking it’s hashtag, we checked #mosaic #mosaicchurch #mosaiccommunity, and they all had a lot of traffic. But #thisismosaic had zero traffic. As an added benefit, it tied into our website, thisismosaic.org.
Next, push it to your people. Especially your staff and leaders. We did a contest with our student min to get a ton of posts going. Keep reminding your people about it.
Put it on stuff, bulletins, graphics, screen announcements, tshirts, etc.
Repost some pics on your official Instagram, Twitter, Facebook feeds.
Announce it at the beginning of big events, like camp, vbs, picnics, parties.