Can you start a movement with a Hashtag?

Over the last couple of weeks #paybackthemoney has been dominating South African media. The idea behind a hashtag movement doesn’t come as a surprise to us in the business.  Hashtags create awareness and trends, especially when they are about something relevant to a wide community. 

Not too long ago #FeesMustFall was also all over the media. With the resulting pulling together of the student community, that online movement could be deemed successful. Considering this, we wonder, how relevant are hashtags in starting a movement? Do we need social media trends to pull us together over causes that are important, or are these #movements for the armchair activists while the real changemakers are on the streets? 

Signia advertisements piggyback on the trending political hashtag movement.

Signia advertisements piggyback on the trending political hashtag movement.

Of course, hashtags aren't just used for politics. They're also used - and abused - for marketing, philanthropic messages and just plain nonsense (#hashtagbloodyeverything). But what is especially interesting is that when a hashtag finally becomes a significant trend, it is immediately seized upon by such users, and they go overboard. For example, the recent #InvestmentFeesMustFall campaign from Signia. 

When social media users piggyback on a trending hashtag, and use it for their own disconnected means, it damages the original message. But does that damage the movement?

We have lots of questions. And in our search for answers, we  spoke to Kaylynn Palm a journalist from Independent Newspapers about hashtags and their significance.  

Can you start a movement with a hashtag?
Hashtags have become part of our daily lives and are used frequently, specifically by users of Twitter. Hashtags are powerful tools as they enable people to easily search and track conversations on Twitter and share their opinions or ideas on a subject. So, yes you can start a movement with a hashtag.

What is the significance of a hashtag?
A hashtag group and categorise tweets by keyword. As a journalist, you can use this tool and to shape and enhance news stories. You could use the hashtag to find people who are talking about a certain topics, and it allows people to find tweets.

Are people abusing the #movement? 
I think that most people understand the purpose of hashtags on Twitter. But there are people who abuse the hashtag by not putting the message into context. This might confuse people. Then there are people who hashtag sentences such as #idontunderstandthepresident, and that is very annoying and abusive.

How can you benefit from hashtags?
As a journalist, I am able to generate story ideas and add people’s views to stories.

Is there a downside to using hashtags?
Once you’ve posted your message with a hashtag, and the information is incorrect or harmful, you might just get into trouble and this can damage your reputation.

Are hashtags the best way to draw attention to current news?
Yes, it’s one way of catching people’s attention. People spend lots of time on social media and are inquisitive, so why not hashtag? It’s an easy and cheap way of getting them to read and view content.