This is the fifth in a series of Audience Building articles, where I go into depth on the sticking points, the places where I see people take short cuts but are quite vital.
This is how to find and build new audiences, not just promoting without annoying your family and friends.
Thanks to Diana Kohne Kenny of Art Cricket LA for asking a question on last month’s article. While I mulled over the best answer, it occurred to me that Part 5 of this series should focus on Hashtags.
The top question at most of my workshops is usually: What the hell are hashtags? How do I use them? They are usually met with some skepticism, but I break it down like so (using Twitter as the primary example):
Twitter is often described as a cocktail party. You know some people, you’re interested in others and many people are strangers. You can be in one conversation and also keep an ear out for another, and it’s acceptable to move seamlessly through discussions. To a certain extent, you know the kind of people you’ll find there, and you’re open to surprises as well. It’s a networking event, or a lecture, or an after-party. It can also be completely random.
The hashtag is the location of that cocktail party. It’s the bar, the lounge, the pub. Hashtags essentially serve five different functions.Hashtags are where you go to find the conversations and people you seek. I won’t delve too far into Trending Topics here, as they’re mostly self-explanatory.
- There are ongoing conversations. I want to see what’s happening in arts education. I visit #artsed (ignoring the obvious spam) and viola! It will take weeks to sort through all these articles to read and people to follow. Retweet relevant tweets generously to get onto people’s radar.
- There are scheduled conversations, or Twitter Chats (the Happy Hour Hashtag). These are everywhere, and here is a handy resource for finding a Twitter chat that relates to a theme, topic or niche audience you seek for your work. For instance, if your film is about fertility, consider joining the #FertilitySupport Twitter chat. They explain it in great detail here. It’s based in the UK, but since anyone on Twitter can join, you can research audience in all the cities where your film will play.
(Note: I chose a touchy topic like fertility for a reason. You want to tread carefully (see Part 3) and not sell people anything, or even vaguely come off as though you’re trying to convince them to see your film. Join the chat with your own curiosity on the topic and be genuine. You probably want to read through a transcript or two before you join the conversation and see if you are welcome. When in doubt, Retweet relevant links from people in the chat and you’ll get onto their radar.
One of the #FertilitySupport Host’s ground rules is pretty common:
We’ll use the last 5 minutes of the chat to share our personal blogs and websites, and this applies to fertility professionals too. Get ready to make notes and RT any useful tweets!
That is when you can share information about your work, but I’d wait until you’re established in the chat. You don’t enter a cocktail party and shove a flyer in the hand of every person you see (and if you do, remind me never to invite you).
- There are Punch Lines. You can just make them up to suit your own humor. It’s probably the most fun part. For instance:
- Hashtags as Activism & Education. #BlackLivesMatter quickly became one of the main hubs to the Ferguson protests and conversation. (In the time it took me to type that last sentence, fifteen new tweets appeared on the hashtag – and I’m a fast typist!). #CrimingWhileWhite , although not as straightforward, began as an educational tool for those who don’t get it.
- There are general subjects where you can find people interested in your work’s themes. For instance, #science may seem too general, but it’s a pretty active hashtag. You also want to consider sub themes, such as #physics, #biology, #space, when applicable.
Just remember not to overdo them, and unless it’s a part of the sentence, don’t put them at the beginning of a tweet. There are people who use so many hashtags in one tweet that I have no idea where to find what they’re actually saying. If you aren’t being ironic and using #toomanyhashtags, then give our eyes a favor and use three hashtags at a time on Twitter tops. (Instagram gives much more room for hashtags than Twitter).
I could go on for days about hashtags, so please ask your questions below and I will answer them. For instance, a reader asked a timely question post-Thanksgiving:
Hi Cindy, as a person launching a new venture in a hurry, your audience building articles have been so helpful. Can you offer advice for squeezing in the info you really do want to shout, like, say, Black Friday sales?
If it fits your brand, your style, your voice, then find a way to jump into the fray and experiment. Understand that (a) it is a fray, and on a day like #BlackFriday, tweets will move at the speed of wifi, therefore your shouting into it may not be heard; and (b) if nothing comes of it, decipher why. Should you try it again or did you lose loyal followers? If you gained new ones, do they stay or do they drop you after the event? Is the outcome worth it? Also know that many use that hashtag to mock or criticize it, so……
I didn’t find much value in using #BlackFriday for a nonprofit like 24th ST, but we did reference it while instructing people on how they can register on Amazon Smile so many of their purchases give a percentage back to the theater. We did jump on the Small Business Saturday and #GivingTuesday bandwagons, which mostly just helped us justify asking for donations in a fun way. (In between there is Cyber Monday, and honestly, I think that’s just the whole holiday season now. I may dig up some stats to prove or disprove that theory.) Giving Tuesday is definitely more up a Nonprofit’s alley, which allied with our organization’s voice. We also focused these efforts on Facebook (where our followers already bought into the mission and love us) rather than Twitter (where some folks are still in the ‘wooing’ process). Our Executive Director quickly followed up #GivingTuesday with a newsletter that said if you just bear with it one more day, tomorrow is #LeaveMeAloneWednesday. Obviously our supporters know we need to ask for money, but we reflect back on the silliness of these titled days even while squeezing them into the plan.
It’s our own unique take on the marketing constructs, our way of leaning into the societal consciousness with a wink, delivered in our own distinct humor and brand. It’s our way to avoid the “Ick, I guess I should run a #BlackFriday sale or something.”