What #CentennialBlShooting Can Teach Us About Hashtags

November 29, 2015

Hashtags Crisis Communication

The shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic is a tragedy that no community is ever ready to handle. However, Colorado Springs is uniquely prepared to face tragedy and crisis for all the wrong reasons. They’ve pulled through two of Colorado’s most devastating wildfires, historic flooding and numerous shootings and bombings in the past few years. Needless to say, the city is exhausted from their constant barrage of disasters.

As the shooting unfolded on Friday, November 27 I pulled out my phone to see how the city of Colorado Springs would respond.

The first use of a hashtag by Colorado Springs Police was #CentennialBl. This hashtag was not going to work as #CentennialBl has no context for what is occurring. It was later changed to #CentennialBlShooting. While this gives context, it also makes the hashtag rather long. Space is always at a premium on Twitter.

This is where things go a bit off the rails. The official hashtag wasn’t created until almost three hours into the event. Other hashtags were already being organically created and used on Twitter– some of them better than others.  Twitter accounts for the Colorado Springs Police Department, Colorado Springs Mayor and Colorado Springs Governemnt also began double-dipping on their hashtags.

As you can see the official city accounts we’re not consistent with using the official hashtag. They often used the original #CentennialBl hashtag or perpetuated organic hashtags being used by the Twitter community.

Confusion is rampant during any crisis situation. It’s important to pick a hashtag and use it correctly and consistently throughout the crisis– communicating well on a consistent basis can make a huge difference. Don’t try and create an official hashtag after one has been created organically. The Planned Parenthood shooting again shows it never works out well. It’s difficult to fight what has been created organically. Don’t fight it, embrace it.

We learned during the Waldo Canyon Fire and Black Forest Fire that timestamps are critical to help keep old information from spreading. No timestamps were used on any information posted by official Colorado Springs accounts. It may take up precious characters but timestamps are crucial for official communications on Twitter.

Let’s Recap

  1. Establish a hashtag for the event as soon as you can.
  2. Don’t create an “official hashtag” for a crisis if a suitable one has already been established.
  3. Use the official hashtag consistently and correctly. Do not include other hashtags that may be in use.
  4. Communicate the official throughout your organization to those who will participating in the discussion. Express the importance of being consistent with its use.


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