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Social media has great potential for effectively and cost-efficiently engaging with students and prospects, but with the constantly changing array of social networks and tools it can be hard for colleges to stay on top of it all. Let’s look at hashtags, for example. Since Twitter transformed the # sign to hyperlinked verb in 2007, hashtagging has taken society by storm, despite being often misused. Schools can use hashtags to improve their social media exposure, making it easier to connect with users with similar interests and for tracking the performance of specific campaigns.

Hashtags can now be found on Instagram, Google+ and even Facebook, as a form of metadata tag to make words or phrases searchable on the platform on which they’re used. A recent study by Utah State University found that 43% of users found hashtags useful and actively reshared them, while 34% of users utilize hashtags to search for brands and products that interest them. One well-placed hashtag can reach thousands of social media users, where prospective students are particularly active – teenagers won’t hesitate to jump into a conversation that sparks their interest, potentially taking posts viral. Sharing hot news on short notice gets the ball rolling, encouraging engaged students to spread the message far and wide.

Here are some popular hashtag uses:

  • Tracking participation on contests: ask participants to include the desired hashtag in their submissions
  • Initiating dialogue regarding trending events: sporting matches are an easy target but homecoming, graduation, conferences or guest-speakers are all fair game
  • Encouraging participation in chats or live webinars: use a consistent #hashtag for every Twitter Chat or webinar participant to see an entire conversation in real time while attracting others to the discussion

hashtag infographic social media marketingSource

Hashtagging Best Practices

Successful hashtags are unique, memorable and succinct, featuring key words that apply to your post. Do a search before choosing a hashtag for a campaign to avoid inadvertently associating yourself with an inappropriate cause¸ attempting to use words that your audience will actually search for, specific enough to yield relevant results. Consider trending topics that align with your present messaging but be cautious with generic hashtags that can’t be specifically measured in terms of your initiative’s impact. For example, the University of Toronto often combines school-specific and generic hashtags to great effect:

twitter marketing

When promoting an event, choose a suitable hashtag early on and share it far and wide – your physical promo material, website, social media accounts, and ideally through your more Twitter-active faculty or administrators’ posts. Hashtag your photos on Pinterest and Instagram along with relevant keyword tagging to help search engines read your content and attract the right traffic. Don’t add hashtags to every single tweet or use more than one or two per post – #hashtagging #every #word #is #annoying! New data from Socialbakers shows that Facebook engagement is inversely related to the number of hashtags per post:

Facebook marketing

Hashtags for Student Recruitment

An acceptance letter hashtag is a great idea to motivate excitement and a deeper connection with your college among aspiring students. Indiana University found social media marketing success by prominently printing “#IUsaidYes” on their big acceptance envelopes, encouraging new students to snap celebratory selfies with the envelopes on their smartphones, which are then retweeted to share with the Hoosier Nation. The IU Admissions office congratulates everyone using the hashtag, resulting in a priceless Twitter stream of positive promotion. Create brief and unique hashtags for your freshman class like #bryant2017 for Bryant University or #RPI17 for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, easily memorable and associated with the targeted topic. Besides being more shareable and findable, specific hashtags make it easy to gather applicable social content together and monitor your buzz.

Hashtag Tracking Tools

To make the most of hashtags, the aim is to cultivate a community and appreciate the inherent lifecycle of each campaign. It is important to understand the challenges of reputation management in the age of instant communication – social listening should be an integral component of any social media marketing. Mention or HootSuite are popular tools for managing your university’s social network activity, and the latter has a Retweet Visibility tool that gives you a fully linked list of users who have retweeted your posts in a simple dashboard view.

Hootsuite social media marketing

Tagboard lets you see what being said around a hashtag and allows you to interact with relevant conversations across all major social networks in a user-friendly interface. It is great for backchannel engagement during events with customizable hubs and includes effective cross-platform analytics. It has proven very popular for engaging with athletics fans on game days, leveraging existing online momentum to spread the social conversation throughout campus.

social media marketingSource

There are countless hashtag tracking tools out there but here are some of our favourites:

  • RiteTag helps you find the best possible hashtag, then analyzes them so you can create a library of hashtags and schedule your social updates.
  • Bundle Post lets you generate, organize, schedule and post content for hashtag campaigns with a specialized feature that identifies optimal keywords in your post, replace those with hashtags and find related content on the net.
  • RebelMouse is another great one for monitoring hashtags across platforms, with integrated Google Analytics, social sharing, RSS feeds and content moderation. A custom domain feature with customizable designs and CSS capabilities allows you to embed the tool right on your website.
  • Talkwalker goes beyond tracking to provide data about geographic and gender distribution for yours and your competitors’ hashtags. Filtered, sorted and analyzed data is easily exported into Excel, PowerPoint or Word reports.
  • Trendsmap shows you the latest Twitter trends for anywhere in the world so you can view popular hashtags by continent, country or city – invaluable for international student recruitment!

hashtag trendsmap

Create a Hashtag Guide

Several colleges and universities strategically manage their social media content by providing staff with recommended hashtags and other policies and best practices. These should be regularly reviewed and updated as fresh data comes in. Dickinson College explains in its social media directory the right hashtag to use in the right situation.


While there are rumours that Twitter might eliminate hashtags as it explores new systems of communication, schools should embrace the tools that leverage their social accessibility and gain valuable insights into student recruitment in the process.



What are your favourite hashtag tracking tools?