#taxcuts: Creating Twitter Hashtags That Inspire Action

Since working on Twitter Vote Report, I’ve been thinking about how to use Twitter effectively for social and political activism. My conversations with Jon Pincus about #topprog, #digg and the use of hashtags for action have inspired me to discuss it a bit further. And when we talk about promoting any kind of group behavior on Twitter, a discussion of the hashtag and it’s use is a necessity. For a good introduction, read Wild Apricot’s “An Introduction to Twitter Hashtags.” Amy Gahran’s “How to Start a Twitter Hashtag” covers all the necessary steps to take when creating a hashtag on Twitter. For my purposes, creating a Twitter hashtag that promotes action, Gahran’s focus on intuition, emotion, and usability is key: “My strategy has been to devise a short, memorable character string that intuitively evokes the event name and the year or other time reference — and that, ideally, can be easily used as a word in a sentence.” #topprog doesn’t really meet these requirements in my opinion, but progressive activists are determined to make it a success (including me now that it’s been designated), so it still might be.

Twitter Vote Report took a campaign style approach to it’s hashtag, #votereport. Ultimately, it worked because it met all the elements Gahran noted, and had bit of fire power behind it. And because of the national awareness surrounding vote protection efforts and the fact that TVR was able to promote the use of #votereport several days before most people needed to actually report their votes, TwitterVoteReport’s #votereport was a success in terms of use, understanding, adoption, AND action.

Let me clarify the difference between adoption and action. For me, adoption of a hashtag happens when people on Twitter begin to use the tag actively, but adoption does not equal action. Action happens when people do something inspired by use of the hashtag. In the case of #votereport, people used the tag actively, but they also performed a specific action in addition to using the hashtag–they reported their vote by adding additional information in a specific format to their tweet. Granted, the hurdle to performing a specific action within Twitter is much lower than asking people to take a specific action outside of Twitter, is lower. But in most cases, taking action outside of Twitter is what will constitute action.

The creation and use of the #taxcuts hashtag on February 5th was completely spontaneous and completely successful in use, understanding, and adoption, but NOT action. However, it could have been if I had been better prepared. After reading an exchange of three humorous tweets about the exaggerated powers of tax cuts, I looked at my co-worker and said: “That’s a hashtag.” And that was that. I enlisted the help of a few other influential Twitterers, encouraged creativity, and #taxcuts took off.

#taxcuts had (and still has) all the makings of a great hashtag. Referring back to Amy’s criteria, #taxcuts is short, memorable, and evokes the frustration surrounding Republican lawmakers’ inability to offer realistic solutions to our current economic crisis, but in a funny way–the way most Twitter users prefer. And #taxcuts can certainly be used in a sentence. Because #taxcuts promoted creativity (check out the first message asking for adoption), adopters felt free to run with it. And run with it they did! There are 35 plus pages of hilarious #taxcuts tweets from only a few hours.

But where #taxcuts stalled was in turning adoption into action. For instance, I found out too late that SEIU set up a click-to-call feature that would have been easy to send people hashtag adapters to for action. If I was a full-time activists I could have taken #taxcuts to the next step. And that’s an important note. I can start a hashtag and use my influential followers to help me spread it throughout Twitter in a few hours, but without at least one full-time activist working to keep the momentum going, action becomes more difficult to inspire.

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[...] need to refine techniques for “flash actions” like Tracy’s experimetns with #taxcuts and Jon’s with #digg it.  social computing technolgies are tools; we should learn to use [...]

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[...] and I’ve detailed my latest example of organizing around hashtags in my post  “#taxcuts:  Creating Twitter Hashtags that Inspire Action.”   Soon after, Jon Pincus and I began working on recommendations for how progressives can [...]

[...] (2) 3.22 – Tracy Viselli (a.k.a. Myrna the Minx) tipped me to her write-up on using twitter hashtags to create and capture live-web activity on a particular topic. Visionary and pragmatically outcome-oriented at the same time, just a fabulous analysis of the [...]

[...] hashtags, and I’ve detailed my latest example of organizing around hashtags in my post “#taxcuts: Creating Twitter Hashtags that Inspire Action.” Soon after, Jon Pincus and I began working on recommendations for how progressives can use [...]


It was an admirable & fun experiment, and I really love how here you reflected on ways to extend its impact into meatspace (so 1999, that term!). Thanks for the invitation to play.

I think not only a connection to a parallel/existing campaign, such as the SEIU one you mention, but a little PR follow-up should the effort take off, would be worth baking into the next revolution by hashtag. Imagine if the TechPres mention had been picked up for Maddow’s show, or SNL Weekend Update, WIRED, or even local tv news?

Amazing, the ripple effect it had given its spontaneity.

And I want to underscore that a large part of the splash #taxcuts made was that it was fun. Wit, sarcasm, playfulness–all in 140 characters or less…pretty entertaining!

Twitter Comment

.@ranggrol taxcuts can do anything! [link to post]

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Twitter Comment

@MyrnaTheMinx – If only they could invent a car powered by tax cuts then we would never need terrorist oil again.

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