Event Hashtags: Lessons Learned from NCA

National Communication AssociationThe National Communication Association (NCA) may have gotten it right – according to its Twitter followers. With the consecration of the #NCA11 hashtag, for this year’s conference, attendees on Twitter might finally be pleased with the selection. However, use of alternate hashtags by the association Twitter account threatens to upend the discussion once again.

A brief glimpse at the history of NCA hashtags reveals a small amount of controversy. The lessons learned from 3 years of event hashtags (at the bottom of this article) might inform event planners with ideas about how to create and use event-based hashtags. [What’s a hashtag?]

2009: First Do No Tweeting
At the November 2009 conference in Chicago, Twitter was gaining popularity. The 2009 conference’s unofficial hashtag – #NCA09 – used to create a conference Tweet-up and connect those who employed it. Twitter erupted at the conference after a session to welcome first-time conference attendees. One of the new attendees asked the panel if the conference had a Twitter hashtag. Reportedly, one of the panelists suggested that no one should be tweeting during conference sessions. Barbara Nixon wrote a post about the controversy entitled, “First Do No Tweeting.” The vibrant conversation on Twitter about the snafu prompted NCA’s leadership to issue a response on its Twitter page, using the conference hashtag:

2010: Characters abound
In 2010, at the conference in San Francisco, the association released its choice for conference hashtag: #NCA2010. Around 200 attendees used the official hashtag, writing over 800 tweets over the course of the weekend. The hashtag was met with opposition on Twitter by a few conference-goers who favored #NCA10 over #NCA 2010. They argued that the “20” in the middle of the hashtag took away two precious characters for intellectual debate. Others opted to use both hashtags to make sure their points were heard:

2011: Mixed Messages
The hashtag described for 2011 – #NCA11 – has apparently satisfied the association’s twitter following as it has been adopted by many users.  After one interested party asked about the hashtag, the conference offered a direct and clear response:

Some, assuming that last year’s model would be applied, began using an errant hashtag: #NCA2011. In recent weeks, the association has used both hashtags interchangeably. These deviations from the branding message could create confusion about the original decision:

Lessons Learned
The lessons learned from these 3 years might well-inform event planners about hashtags. Conventional wisdom (pun intended) on event hashtags suggests that event planners take the following steps:

  1. Select an event hashtag. Consider character limits and choose something that can easily be remembered.
  2. Publicize the hashtag. Event planners have excellent platforms for sharing hashtags with attendees: the organization website, the organization Twitter page, and on-site signage at the event.
  3. Use the hashtag. Ensure that all organization tweets about the event use the selected hashtag.
  4. Encourage attendees to use the hashtag. Retweets, @mentions, and public displays of live tweets at the event can inspire attendees to continue using the hashtag.
  5. Manage the hashtag.  If errant hashtags persist, gently correct them with a reply to the writer. The reply might say something like: “@JAMcArthur Thanks for your excellent tweets about the conference. Use the #NCA11 hashtag so everyone can follow along.”
As for NCA, the conference is in November. By then, I’m sure we’ll have this sorted out.


  1. Wow! You saved my tweet from the conference 🙂

    Enjoyed the post. The tricky thing about hashtags is that they are so fluid that even if the organization makes an attempt at determining what the official hashtag will be, the people always have the last say… if there is such a thing as a last say because even after a hashtag has been settled upon, it will continue to evolve it as time goes on and events unfold. That is not to say that the organization shouldn’t make the effort to try to centralize the conversation, but they have to be prepared to roll with the punches too and they have to be good about monitoring different iterations of the same hashtag.

    • Great advice Andi. The official hashtag is only good if it gains the support of those tweeting. In my experience, most people enjoy tweeting with the hashtag and connecting their thoughts to others.

      I really enjoyed your thought about different iterations of the same hashtag. This raises great questions about the “ownership” of a hashtag.

  2. — jbj .You may have noticed that big conferences tend to attract a lot of conversation on Twitter these days. Team ProfHacker and friends shared their perspectives on the use of Twitter and other related topics at the MLA conference last month in for instance.

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