Putting Action Behind Social Justice Hashtags (2023)

Brands haven’t hesitated to show support for those protesting police brutality against Black Americans—but consumers are calling out companies that post a few words to social media without correcting inequalities within their own organizations

Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, Instagram and other social media platforms have been filled with messages of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and promises to “do better” from brands.

But those words rang hollow if they weren’t backed by action, as many consumers and brand insiders were quick to point to the lack of diversity in companies’ leadership teams, advertising and elsewhere. Campaigns such as Pull Up for Change were established in response, built around holding brands accountable, and Ad Age is regularly updating a blog post that tracks brands’ responses to racial injustice.

What the en masse response to protests has demonstrated is that the conversation around whether a brand should step up and take a stand is over. The new focus is around action. Brands cannot announce their stance without taking meaningful steps to practice what they preach.


Deposits of Goodwill

Ben & Jerry’s has a reputation for putting action behind its advocacy. In response to protests against systemic racism and police brutality against Black people, the brand released a statement calling on the U.S. to dismantle white supremacy and offered four specific steps to do so. The company’s Global Head of Activism Christopher Miller told The Drum that this is “not a marketing exercise.”

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(Video) #BlackLivesMatter: Turning a Hashtag Into a Call-To-Action

The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy. Link in profile for our full statement.

A post shared by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) on Jun 2, 2020 at 10:54am PDT

“A friend of mine messaged me—he’s a big fitness guy— and he’s like, ‘Man, I don’t eat ice cream, but I’m buying Ben & Jerry’s now,’” says Americus Reed, marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The reason Ben & Jerry’s call for action is believable, Reed says, is that activism is baked into the culture of the company. “What is your social justice footprint, so to speak? When I look back three, five, seven, 10 years, have you been making these, what I would call, deposits of goodwill? Have you been doing this kind of work outside of the spotlight?”

Anecdotal evidence, consumer surveys and academic research all suggest that taking a stand—in alignment with your company’s mission—is a worthy endeavor. Ben & Jerry’s frequently engages in activist work and continues to thrive as a brand (even among Reed’s non-ice-cream-consuming friends). As Reed explains, a great product or service paired with a shared value system only deepens a brand’s connection with the consumer.

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(Video) Social Justice Think Tank: HASHTAG: Your Phrase Here

We’re calling for an end to unequal, racist enforcement of social distancing policies. Learn more and take action at the link in our bio!

A post shared by Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) on Jun 28, 2020 at 8:01am PDT

“The theory is, the [customers] we lose are going to be replaced with equal if not more of the type of people who will be more loyal,” he says. “They are coming into the tent not necessarily only because of how great your product is, but they’re coming into the tent because they believe your product, your company, your service, your organization, shares their same values.”

Not every company has a history similar to Ben & Jerry’s, and they may be starting from scratch. To that end, Reed emphasizes the need to be unambiguous in your message and your plan for action. Saying your brand will do better without any concrete steps won’t stand up to scrutiny. He recommends bringing in outside voices to help craft a specific plan of action and to start sewing these values into the fabric of the brand.

“You have to invest the psychic energy, the leadership impetus, and you have to build it into the DNA of what you’re doing,” Reed says. “You have to bring in a diversity officer, you have to bring in the community, you have to bring in those voices that have not been heard. And you have to make them part of the conversation, but also part of the strategic, forward-looking approach that you’re going to use.”

Baking Action Into the Brand’s Culture

In the conversation about how brands can confront racism, much has been focused on diversifying a company’s staff. A clear line can be drawn from a diverse (and equally compensated) team to more inclusive products, services and advertising.

“It almost makes no sense to not take a good hard look and say, ‘If we want to appeal to the general market, so to speak, we must come to terms with the fact that the general market oftentimes does not look like the people in the room,’” says Bennett D. Bennett, principal at Aerialist. “Does that mean you fire every person until you get to a point where it’s fully representative of that? No. But how do you start including the voices that usually are marginalized?”

(Video) Translanguaging for Social Justice Overview and Action Planning - IDRA

Bennett also serves as vice president of partnerships at 600 & Rising, a new nonprofit dedicated to the advocacy and advancement of Black employees in the advertising industry. The name comes from the more than 600 Black agency professionals who released an open letter to industry leaders calling for an end to racism. The letter included a list of 12 actions to address the problem, including making specific, measurable and public commitments to improve Black representation at all levels of agency staffing—a metric not currently tracked in the industry to indicate if any progress is being made.

Bennett says that inclusion of diverse voices extends beyond company rank and should also include hiring and investing in diverse creative partnerships and showcasing diverse voices in awards submissions. As consumers sat up and took note of who was posting to Instagram and who was doing the work, they’re likely to keep track of which brands keep it up.

“How do we stake our claim at this table and say, yes, we care about our brand’s bottom line and about creating work that appeals to consumers, but how do we now become proactive?” Bennett says. “Because the stuff that we’re doing in regard to the letter is reactive, but it also gives [companies] space to say, ‘Let’s do this and have a ‘yes, and?’ mentality to it.’”

Continuing the work, even if there are some missteps along the way, is crucial to baking diversity into a brand’s DNA. Bennett references a quote he read recently: “I will give you grace if you give me effort.” If companies are willing to put in the work—even if not perfect—it won’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. The more a brand diversifies its staff and partnerships, the more natural it becomes for anyone involved to question and reject insensitive output—and the easier it becomes to lead with values.

“There’s all kinds of missteps that you can make, there’s a whole slew of challenges,” Reed says. “What you have to do is be true to your truth, live your truth, you have to be true to what it is your company believes in. Whatever the consequences are, you live with it. … But I think a lot of companies don’t understand values-driven marketing because they’ve never really done it.”

Illustration by Bill Murphy.


(Video) Dr.Brandeis Marshall: Hashtag Activism



Sarah Steimer is the former managing editor of Marketing News. She may be reached on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.

(Video) Episode 13: 3 Ways To Activate Change After Social Media Hashtags


What is the purpose of hashtags in social media? ›

A hashtag is a word or keyword phrase preceded by a hash symbol (#). It's used within a post on social media to help those who may be interested in your topic to be able to find it when they search for a keyword or particular hashtag. It helps to draw attention to your posts and encourage interaction.

What is the purpose of a hashtag? ›

A hashtag—written with a # symbol—is used to index keywords or topics on Twitter. This function was created on Twitter, and allows people to easily follow topics they are interested in.

What is an example of a hashtag? ›

For example, #InboundHour and #ChocolateLovers are both hashtags. You can put these hashtags anywhere in your social media posts: in the beginning, at the end, or anywhere in between. (Read this blog post for more instructions on using hashtags.)

Should I use hashtags on Facebook 2022? ›

Facebook Hashtag Strategy 2022

Since Facebook's algorithm shows posts that your friends have engaged with, digital marketers debated the value of hashtags. Although they aren't the main way for audiences to find your Facebook content, they can help, so we recommend using hashtags on Facebook as you would on Instagram.

Are hashtags effective? ›

Ultimately, both stories confirm that hashtags can add context to your Instagram content. They can also help your content appear in relevant searches, which can drive discovery. But if you're looking for a tool to increase reach on Instagram, hashtags won't affect exposure in a meaningful way.

Is a hashtag a call to action? ›

Call-to-Action (CTA) Hashtags

Encourage the online community to perform a specific action involving your brand. It's a traditional marketing concept that's applied to social media.

What is the power of hashtag? ›

Hashtags make it easier for users to discover posts and engage in conversations surrounding a specific topic by filtering relevant content. For marketers, hashtags help to create visibility for campaigns and to reach relevant audiences. Hashtags contribute to exposure and make your content more discoverable.

What makes a successful hashtag? ›

The best hashtags tend to be relatively short and easy to remember. Use relevant and specific hashtags. If it is too obscure, it will be hard to find and it won't likely be used by other social media users. Limit the number of hashtags you use.

What is hashtag in simple words? ›

What is a Hashtag? A hashtag is a label used on social media sites that makes it easier to find posts or information with a theme or contains specific content. It is created by including the symbol “#” in front of a word or words without spaces.

Is it better to put hashtags in post or comments? ›

Should You Use Hashtags on Instagram in the Caption or Comment Section? Instagram has confirmed that hashtags are effective in both your post caption and the comments section – so it's totally up to you where you want to share them.

What should you not do with hashtags? ›

In this post I'll review the top hashtag mistakes I see people and businesses make over and over, and how to avoid them.
  • Using Only “Popular” or Generic Hashtags. ...
  • Not Researching Hashtags. ...
  • Ignoring Local Hashtags. ...
  • Not Testing For New Hashtags. ...
  • Not Using Related Hashtags. ...
  • Using A Million Hashtags In Your Captions.
16 Jan 2017

Do people still use hashtags? ›

The short answer is yes. While younger social media users may argue that usage of hashtags is perhaps not as "cool" as earlier generations who embraced them, they still are highly effective social media tools. In fact, Instagram is continually optimizing how hashtags are used for improved user experience.

Do hashtags even matter? ›

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Only if used correctly. Hashtags have become a powerful tool to increase engagement, organize content, and connect users on various social media platforms.

How do hashtags increase engagement? ›

Using hashtags to boost social engagement with your business is a great way to drive traffic to your social media pages, reach a larger audience, and build a community around your brand. Doing so encourages your customers to connect with not only your business but both new and current customers as well.

What is the aim of hashtag activism? ›

Because hashtags play a central role in mobilizing movements on social media, the term is often used interchangeably with hashtag activism. Activism on social media includes promoting awareness of social justice issues and showing solidarity through the use of hashtags, posts, and campaigns.

How do hashtags help social movements? ›

The point of hashtag activism is arguably to share certain issues with one's friends and followers in the hopes that they will also share the same information. This leads to a widespread discussion and allows for change to occur.

Do hashtags in Replies work? ›

Putting the hashtags in the comments works just as fine as if they were in the caption.” Louise Meyers disagrees and says to only put hashtags in the post itself: “If you insist on using uber-popular hashtags, you MUST post them in your post caption.

Do hashtags make a difference? ›

Hashtags are an important way to expand your Instagram audience and get more reach. When you use a hashtag, your post will appear on the page for that hashtag. If you use a hashtag on your Story, it could be included in the relevant hashtag Story, which also appears on the hashtag page.

How do I make my hashtag popular? ›

Follow these steps to create a trending hashtag:
  1. Create a hashtag that's short (and simple)
  2. Create a hashtag that's easy to read.
  3. Consider all the ways your branded hashtag could be (mis)understood.
  4. Don't use too many hashtags in one post.
  5. Do your research when using other hashtags.
  6. Create own hashtag that's original.
17 Nov 2021

What is the hashtag strategy? ›

An Instagram hashtag strategy is an intentional, calculated way of using hashtags on Instagram. Rather than haphazardly posting a handful of hashtags on the fly, creating a strategy will help you plan your content ahead of time. You'll have a more strategic content marketing approach to Instagram as a result.

What is the real word for a hashtag? ›

The technical term for a hashtag is “octothorp,” according to the OED; octo, in reference to the eight points in the figure, and Thorpe, OED says cryptically, from “the surname Thorpe.” Whatever that means.

Is a hashtag a slogan? ›

Hashtags typically have a much shorter lifespan than taglines, perhaps measured in days or weeks. They are often used to spotlight a particular campaign, trend very quickly, and then fade from use when their reason for being has been fulfilled. Taglines and hashtags are very similar.

What was the first hashtag? ›

The first hashtag

In one of his August proposals, Messina tweeted the first recorded hashtag: #barcamp. This "test" tag referred to an international network of user-generated technological and web-based conferences.

How do hashtags attract customers? ›

Best Hashtags to Attract Customers to Your Business
  1. Make sure that the hashtag is not already in use and does not already have a totally different meaning.
  2. Make sure your hashtag cannot be read in a different way that leads to a different meaning. ...
  3. Keep it short. #
25 Jul 2018

How do you create a successful hashtag campaign? ›

It's time to break hashtag campaigns down into 5 easy steps.
  1. Step 1: Set campaign goals. The first you need to do is set goals for the campaign. ...
  2. Step 2: Choose your hashtag. ...
  3. Step 3: Get partners involved. ...
  4. Step 4: Publish quality content. ...
  5. Step 5: Promote your campaign.

Do hashtags help engagement? ›

When you use more than two hashtags, your engagement actually drops by an average of 17 percent. Twitter's own research into hashtags confirms that there is significant advantage to using them. Individuals can see a 100 percent increase in engagement by using hashtags (the same bump as seen in the Buddy Media study).

How do I create a hashtag? ›

On Twitter, adding a “#” to the beginning of an unbroken word or phrase creates a hashtag. When you use a hashtag in a Tweet, it becomes linked to all of the other Tweets that include it. Including a hashtag gives your Tweet context and allows people to easily follow topics that they're interested in.

How do I own my own hashtag? ›

You can't “own” a hashtag like you own your website's domain name. Registering a hashtag just stakes your claim to that hashtag and adds you to a hashtag directory, which in turn allows you to go into more detail as to what the hashtag is for. Steps to registering your hashtag: Create your hashtag.

What hashtags attract the most followers on social media? ›

This is because when you use the right Instagram hashtags, getting followers and more engagement becomes a lot easier.
The #love hashtag can relate to nearly any post, which is why it's been used so many times.
  • #instagood. ...
  • #me. ...
  • #tbt. ...
  • #cute. ...
  • #family. ...
  • #travel. ...
  • #photooftheday. ...
  • #happy.

What is a unique hashtag? ›

What exactly is a unique hashtag? These are hashtags that are created for a specific purpose. While a general hashtag like #business can refer to just about anything business-related, a hashtag like #ShareaCoke is much more specific—it's tied to a specific brand and is part of a specific marketing campaign.

What are the best hashtags for views? ›

Top Instagram hashtags
  • #love.
  • #fashion.
  • #photooftheday.
  • #beautiful.
  • #photography.
  • #picoftheday.
  • #happy.
  • #follow.
10 Feb 2022

Can a hashtag be a slogan? ›

Campaign and Brand Hashtags

A brand hashtag is used much as a tagline and can in fact be #tagline. Use this hashtag whenever it's possible and appropriate, on your website, business cards, social sites etc. Encourage others, both inside and outside your company, to use this hashtag.

How do you start a hashtag campaign? ›

How To Start A Hashtag Campaign – A Marketer's Secrets
  1. Recognize your target audience.
  2. Set your objectives.
  3. Keep it simple to encourage more participation.
  4. Pick the appropriate Social Media Platform.
  5. Repurpose hashtag campaign on marketing touchpoints.

Can a hashtag be a logo? ›

You can use a hashtag as a brand name or slogan for your product or service, in much the same way that any other name or phrase or combination of words can be used to brand a product or service.

Can you copyright a hashtag? ›

Guidance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states: “A mark comprising of or including the hash symbol (#) or the term 'hashtag' is registerable as a trademark of service only if it functions as an identifier of the source of the applicant's goods or services.”

Can you sell a hashtag? ›

A hashtag is eligible for trademark registration when it is used to promote or sell goods or services in interstate commerce;[5]


1. Trending Hashtags & Posts – The Social Media Professionals Behind the Brand
(Northeastern Alumni)
2. Creative Conversation: Arts & Justice
(City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture)
3. How To Use Your Influence For Social Justice
(The Blogger Union)
4. Mind Moves Matter: Beyond hashtags into change (Saturday 9 October 2021)
(Newcastle University Alumni)
5. WICERS 2019 - #Hashtags, Posts and Tweets ~ Managing Your Digital Profile
(WICERS Atlanta)
6. Does a Hashtag Count as Social Change? | Esther Park | TEDxYouth@ASD
(TEDx Talks)
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