36569 Channeling the Conversation: How to Use Hashtags to Gain Awareness and Promote Engagement

Maggie Silver, MPH, Office of Smoking on Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

Background: The number of conversations happening online each day is staggering; on Twitter alone there are over 500 million tweets a day. How do organizations cut through the clutter and channel users’ attention to one specific cause? Hashtag campaigns offer one solution. A hashtag is a searchable term used on social media to brand content and make it easier to find amongst the multitude of online conversations. A well-branded hashtag can rally supporters, raise awareness, and give your cause momentum. Hosting a hashtag campaign can be a worthwhile endeavor for channeling the online conversation.

Program background: On October 7, 2014, CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health launched the #20Million Memorial hashtag campaign.  The goal of the #20Million Memorial was to leverage the 50th Anniversary of the first U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking & Health to recognize that since this time an estimated 20 million Americans have passed away due to tobacco use. The campaign provided users with a space to share memories of loved ones who died due to a smoking related illness.

Evaluation Methods and Results:  To evaluate the success of the campaign, CDC looked at partner engagement, impressions, reach, and channel use. Since the Memorial’s launch, there have been approximately 1,500 verified tweets from over 1,000 Twitter users using the #20million hashtag. This has provided 4.6 million total impressions and a total unique reach of 2.6 million.  People also participated in the Memorial via Facebook, Google+, Instagram and other social networks. However, these platforms do not provide a mechanism to search and export entries, limiting the number of metrics we have available for evaluation. However, based upon total usage of the hashtag, 66% of uses were from Twitter, 22% were from Facebook and 11% were from Instagram. We can estimate there were 2,000 total submissions. Of those that participated in the Memorial, 54% were individuals, 29% were partners or other public health organizations, 16% were miscellaneous or uncategorized and 1% were media.

Conclusions: When developing a hashtag campaign several logistical considerations needed to be addressed, including what hashtag to use, how to collect and display submissions, what channels to target, when to end promotion of the campaign, and how to create a permanent installation of the memorials. Once these decisions were made CDC was able to roll out a robust hashtag campaign that increased the reach of their messages around findings from the Surgeon General’s report.

Implications for research and/or practice: For public health organizations looking for a way to break through the chatter, hashtag campaigns can be a simple way to raise awareness across a broad number of online channels. It brings individuals and partners into the conversation together and uses their networks and online influence to expose vast numbers of users to a specific message.