How to Sell Catalan Independence on Twitter

Following my recent post on how to sell Catalonia in English, I wanted to take a more detailed look at English language Twitter hashtag strategy.

The first thing to note about the current independence hashtag scene is that there are a LOT of English hashtags. Too many. Here are just a few of them:

#KeepCalmCat, #CataloniaNextStateinEurope, #freecatalonia, #FreedomforCatalonia, #sovereignCatalonia, #CataloniaNextEUState, #HelpCatalonia

Why is this a problem? It is important to remember the purpose of hashtags. They’re not just decorative; hashtags are a way for people to follow topics they are interested in. More precisely, they are a way for people to follow topics they are already interested in.

If someone unfamiliar with the Catalan independence issue wanted to find out more about it on Twitter, the most useful thing would be for there to be ONE simple hashtag for them to find and follow. Not 10 or 20. With so many hashtags in use, the people who following them are those who are already fervent supporters of the independence cause.

 So, how do we choose a single hashtag?

As always, the first criterion is that it should be written in correct, coherent English. We don’t want another repeat of Convergència’s #SoveraignCatalonia debacle:



Next, using literal translations of Catalan hashtags won’t work. As with all political writing, cultural and linguistic subtleties are vital. The #NouEstatdEuropa tag has been variously translated as #NextStateInEurope and #NextEUState, when #NewEuropeanState would have sounded far more natural.

The #HelpCatalonia tag sounds whiny and pathetic, which is never a good look. Conversely, #FreedomForCatalonia and #FreeCatalonia sound scary and militant, which the Catalan independence movement most definitely isn’t. Plus, potential allies may be put off by the use of the kind of language more appropriate to Palestine or Burma.

Finally, the ideal hashtag is short. After all, you want people to be able to fit comments, links and questions into their tweets too! Most of the hashtags listed above are far too long.

My suggestion? I’m not going to create another new hashtag to confuse things even more. The one I like the best of all those in use is #IndyCat. It’s short. It’s simple. And, perhaps most important of all, it sounds cool.

Using other people’s hashtags

However, even our one, short, super-cool hashtag, requires people to come looking for it. Most people won’t do this, which is why using other hashtags and joining wider conversations is crucial in reaching new audiences.

If done well, this can be highly effective, but if it’s done badly, it can be downright rude and annoying.

I have to come out against the hashtag campaign waged during the Barcelona Mobile World Congress. During this event, tens of thousands of international delegates from the mobile technology world descend on Barcelona. The idea was to using the congress hashtags (#WelcomeMobile and #MWC13) and add in independence slogans and the hashtag #FreedomforCatalonia to raise awareness of the issue. Great idea, right?

Well, think about it from the congress delegate’s point of view. I’m a Finnish App developer visiting Barcelona. I take a look at the #MWC13 hashtag to find out about events at the congress and to get in touch with other attendees, and all I can see are Tweets from Alt Empordà about Catalan independence. That’s bloody annoying!

A hashtag is like a conversation. What are the rules of joining someone elses’s conversation? Listen, engage, and contribute something relevant. The same applies on Twitter. The Mobile World Congress might have been a good opportunity to promote the Catalan brand in other ways, as a tourist destination or innovation hub, but this shouty campaign probably annoyed lots of international IT geeks, who aren’t even the independence movement’s target audience.

A better idea would be to use the hashtags of European summits, or use general political hashtags such as #democracy or #referenda to reach relevant audiences. As always, the golden rule of Twitter is to listen, contribute and engage, not just shout into the void.

There you have it! Hashtag your way to independence!