The word “hashtag” inspires fear in most social media novices. It’s not hard to understand what it is (a word or phrase added to a social media post, made searchable by the addition of a # sign before it), but figuring out how to use the hashtag can be baffling.

Hashtags originated on Twitter. By using a hashtag, your tweet might get additional exposure. Most tweets can only be seen by your followers, but a hashtag allows your tweet to be seen by those searching for a particular topic, even if they don’t follow you or your organization. The phenomenon spread to other social media sites and is now ubiquitous.

You might tweet, “I’m so proud of the #USA tonight! #RioOlympics2016.” Twitter users engaged in the Rio Olympics, and actively searching for the hashtag might stumble across your tweet and (in a perfect world) become intrigued enough to engage with your organization in some way.

As nonprofit marketers, hashtags have pluses and minuses. In today’s post, we’ll look at the upside of hashtags. Next week, we’ll dive into the potential pitfalls.

1. Hashtags are a great way for attendees of your event to see pictures and posts from other attendees after the event. In order to benefit from this strategy, you must actively encourage the use of a particular hashtag, and stress the benefit of using it:

“Tag your photos #WalkInThePark2016 to be included in our online photo album!”

2. Mission-based hashtags are certainly appropriate for nonprofit marketers. If your organization offers #DiabetesResources or advocates for #CancerResearch or #SocialJustice, by all means try them out to engage new constituents.

3. Hashtags can also illustrate a sense of community. Look at the millions voluntarily tweeting #ImWithHer and #MakeAmericaGreat again during this election season. You can rally your constituents to identify as a supporter of your organization and its mission:

“Join our cause in stopping animal abuse by tweeting #HashtagExample to your state representatives.”

“Tell your friends how we’ve made a difference in your life with the hashtag #WhyILoveABCOrganization.”

All three of these uses are legitimate tactics for integrating hashtags into your social media posts.

Next week, I’ll post about the pitfalls of using hashtags. In the meantime, comment if your organization has had a particularly successful marketing campaign utilizing hashtags!