Hashtags have been used for years to categorize conversations and promote brands on Twitter. They have also emerged as an incredibly useful tool for tracking conversations – and connecting attendees – at conferences and events.
If you haven’t encountered hashtags before, Twitter users incorporate them into their tweets to extrapolate a conversation beyond one’s own followers and allow other Twitter users to follow conversations on a particular topic. A hashtag is denoted with a pound symbol (#) and a word that best categorizes the topic or event included in the tweet. For example, people use the hashtags #egov, #opengov, and #gov20 to tag tweets that link to or discuss e-government topics. Users can then track those hashtags to learn more about e-government or connect with other people in the e-government field.
The Personal Democracy Forum Conference (PDF) has been a leader in using hashtags to incorporate “back channel” conference conversations into the official conference agenda. The most recent PDF took place in New York City. It focused on the topic of agents of change in democracy through a series of short presentations and breakout sessions. PDF attendees used the conference hashtag, #pdf11, to categorize tweets surrounding the event, connect with others, and brand content before, during, and after the conference.
Conference organizers and attendees generated over 7,700 mentions of the PDF hashtag on Twitter over the course of the last month, extending the reach of the conference across the social media world. Examining the life cycle of #pdf11 illustrates how event organizers can use Twitter to promote their events to a wide audience on social media.
Conference organizers used their #pdf11 hashtag prior to the conference to drum up interest and provoke anticipation for expected sessions:
During the conference, organizers and attendees used #pdf11 to promote speakers. This crowd-sourced promotional tactic helped reinforce the conference’s reputation. Further, using #pdf11 helped categorize commentary from those engaged at the conference and also acted as a roadmap to what was being said.
Finally, after the conference, its organizers used the #pdf11 hashtag to gain added traction around media coverage of their speakers. Coverage included an Oprah.com post about a talk given by Jim Gilliam called “The Internet is My Religion”:
Together, these real-time Twitter conversations provide a snapshot of how individuals engaged in conference content and connected with one another before, during and after the event – both to promote the conference brand and to engage in ongoing conversations about the future of democracy and participation.
Jim Gilliam, featured in Oprah’s tweet, stressed his faith in the internet as he overcame the unthinkable when he spoke at PDF. The strength of democracy and participation in online conversations was evidenced in Gilliam’s speech, when he said “It was faith in the Internet – faith in people connecting through the Internet.” Hashtags can play a small role in that process.