Remember the “Just Say No” or “Stop, drop, and roll” campaigns from the 1980s? In advocacy, coming up with a catchy phrase, or the 2016 equivalent—a shareable hashtag—is old hat. And since nonprofits and advocacy organizations are plentiful in community, if not in coffers, spreading cause messages via Instagram hashtag has been especially effective over the last few years.

After combing through social and health hashtags on our media intelligence platform, these hashtags stood out in 2016 with their tens of thousands (and in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of impressions on Instagram. It was impressive how these hashtags became the key to accessing information about certain causes and conversations. Beyond an ability to go viral, the causes behind these 10 hashtags—whether they were branded or organic—resonated. The beauty of much of the content associated with hashtags on Instagram is that, even if initially branded, it inevitably includes a large bulk of user generated content. And so it is the community, ultimately, that spreads the hashtag (and advocacy) of a cause.

Here are the best ways hashtag advocacy was implemented on Instagram in 2016.

1. #movember [branded]

My soft spot for the #Movember hashtag has to do with its presence on social media (as a tag on Flickr.com) before social media was a tool regularly used in PR and marketing. In 2008, it seemed that friends were growing “November mustaches” in droves to call attention to prostate cancer. To show off their impressive ‘staches, they’d post photos documenting their facial hair growth journey on Flickr and would include a link to the Movember Foundation website so that supporters could make a donation. Now those images have moved to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but the sentiment remains the same.

2. #biketoworkday [branded]

My time as a local bike advocate in the SF Bay Area has made me partial to the #biketoworkday hashtag. Creating and using the #biketoworkday hashtag in 2012 through 2014 for one of the largest Bike to Work Day celebrations in the US, arguably led to its mass adoption during a period of pivotal growth for Instagram and Twitter. Bike to Work Day asks commuters to choose bike+ transportation on one day in May, and the PR and marketing campaign continues to target the 9 bay area counties with a population of over 7 million people. Still on this day in May, and on many other days throughout the US, people still share photos of themselves before/after and sometimes while bike commuting with the #biketoworkday hashtag. This branded hashtag tag has become an easy call for solidarity for those who regularly (or irregularly) bike commute and want to share their experience.

3. #stopdiabetes [branded]

Diabetes is on the rise in the US with 1.4 million new cases diagnosed each year and it’s holding steady as the 7th leading cause of death among adults. The American Diabetes Association branded the #stopdiabetes hashtag to increase visibility about the disease and preventable factors that go into a diabetes diagnosis, but its adoption has been far and wide. Beyond this image of fitness and weightloss (a common theme on Instagram) there are images of recipes, messages of hope, and facts and figures all referencing aspects of the disease.

 4. #breastcancer [organic]

The #breastcancer hashtag—unlike the three above—is organic and serves as a point of visibility for those who’ve survived the diagnosis. The survivors share images of their treatments and their scars. The hashtag is also a place where organizations and fundraisers that support breast cancer can ask for donations or lobby for support. In this way, the broad hashtag acts as a public forum for those that want to participate in a conversation about different aspects of breast cancer, including finding resources or a receptive community.

One of the things that has surfaced as part of the visibility of these hashtags is that these diseases, diabetes or breast cancer, impacts the community as a whole, not only those who are afflicted with the disease and their families, but also friends, neighbors, brothers, and the community that cares for these people. This is evident in the variety of content being shared, whether that is cause marathons, photos of families together, fundraisers, or men wearing pink in celebration of breast cancer awareness.

5. #hearthealth [organic]

Generalized and wide-reaching hashtags can make the most difference in visibility for the cause. #Hearthealth, like #breastcancer is a health-related hashtag that came about organically on Instagram, but content includes recipes and messages from the American Heart Association, as well as those impacted by the effects of cardiopulmonary disease. In the instance above, the American Heart Association, Chicago associates their branded hashtag, #HeartChicago with the more widespread #hearthealth to reach more eyeballs.

6. #domesticviolence [organic]

The organic #domesticviolence hashtag is full of domestic violence resources for advocacy and safety. It is also sprinkled through with empowering sayings to warn of/ ward off possible domestic abuse. The widespread usage of this #domesticviolence hashtag means that those looking for personal inspiration, empowerment, reassurance, advocacy, resources, or assistance can more easily access it. Since accessing social media is ubiquitous, looking for resources through social media might be the easiest way to get necessary information while in crisis.

7. #antibullying [organic]

Like other hashtags that are wide reaching the #antibullying hashtag is used to reduce bullying and its effects. Some of the user generated content includes empowering sayings or photos of children playing. This year, the #antibullying hashtag was also used to promote a film about alliances to ameliorate bullying. As with much of social media, hashtags can contain and thread conversations with effectiveness, but there is the chance that echo-chambers are created where the convo gets stuck in loops discussing the same topics with the same actors.

How do people break out of these communities to extend the conversation? By equating different related hashtags, communities can surface additional conversations related to specific issues or causes.

8. #mentalhealth [organic]

2016 was the year that more online communities attempted to destigmatize #mentalhealth. This is another occurrence of how an organic hashtag can be useful in weaving stories from across the internet. Individuals, including influencers and celebrities, are able to tell their private stories about mental health struggles, putting their messages in front of those who might need to hear it. It would be naive us to believe that some of these conversations weren’t vetted before they hit the public sphere on social media, but their value as public conversations about mental health struggles are still valuable. And because some of these messages come from social influencers, they can often break through the noise on social media. Coupling these specific messages with hashtags from organizations that can help will increase their viralness and reach.

9. #PCOSWeightloss [organic]

The organic #PCOSWeightloss hashtag is where you’ll find real women sharing their struggle with losing weight while having PCOS (and dealing with its side effects, including infertility). This tag works in the same that other accountability communities have worked in the past, but do it via Instagram, where women give each other props as they share recipes and tips, as they move towards taking care of their feminine and reproductive health.

10. #stressfree [organic]

The #stressfree hashtag is the most aspirational on this list, since we can move towards a stress-free lifestyle, but it seems impossible to actually achieve it. But implementing habits and lifestyle changes to reduce stress will lead us to healthier lives. This hashtag highlights different ways we can reduce stress with tidbits about how that can impact different aspects of our health.

PR Hashtag Takeaways:

  • Create a branded hashtag for your organization
  • Associate your branded hashtag with more widespread/general hashtags to extend reach
  • Steer conversations using branded and organic hashtags to promote useful original content
  • Use a media monitoring platform to follow conversations of associated hashtags for regramming and to spot trends
  • Reach out to influencers who are actively using your associated or branded hashtags

We’ve gone deep into the social media reeds here, but if you’re interested in 2016’s best data visualization software or infographics, we have those too.