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Hashtags save lives: analyzing the impact of online activism


Before hashtagging content was used for marketing and brand management, it was (and still is!) an impactful tactic for social media activism.

The examples listed above didn't just gather support and educate users online, they prompted action in the real world: protests, marches, lawsuits, international agency cooperation, and of course, hundreds of people dousing themselves in icy cold water to spread awareness of ALS.

We know that hashtag activism works, but how do you measure their reach? Can you prove your posts or online campaigns have impact?


We used social media intelligence from Infegy Atlas to track online activism around one of our most beloved subjects – pets – to measure how the hashtag “AdoptDontShop” saved the lives of hundreds of cats and dogs in the Dallas area. In this article, we’ll share some research, the heartening results of the action, and offer a couple metrics by which you can measure your online campaign.

Related: 10 Ways to Use Social Listening

Activating online advocacy

The number of animals being taken in by shelters generally varies by season, and for Dallas, summer is when the animal in-take numbers spike. When people don’t adopt animals and shelters run out of capacity to house animals, the Dallas shelter system has to euthanize animals.

In 2013, the number of abandoned and stray pets in Dallas’ animal shelter systems was so high that 75% of these animals had to be euthanized! So, to encourage more pet adoptions, Dallas shelter systems began a series of tactical social posts urging adoption of the pets in their shelters.

They tagged influencers and partnered with big brands to push online activism using the hashtag “AdoptDontShop” (Figure 1).

Image 1 - Word Cloud of Mentions Figure 1: Linguistic analysis reveals pet brands and influencers that were tagged in campaign posts; Infegy Atlas data.

The posts contain both language and emoji (flashing red light, SOS) that emphasized the urgency of the situation. In fact, advocates were upfront about the stakes should folks not step up to adopt the animals – the animals would be euthanized (Figure 2).

Image 2 - Urgency WordsFigure 2: Linguistic analysis reveal repetition of words pointing to urgency; Infegy Atlas data.

The change begins

The change began online: we dove into post volume and then went granular – zooming into the conversation emerging from just the Dallas area. We saw that in 2016, the volume of posts with #AdoptDontShop exploded 100% amongst social users in the Dallas area.

Dallas area shelters released data that showed that the number of cats and dogs being euthanized began to fall even though the shelter system had to in-take and shelter more and more animals. The percentage of euthanized animals went from 75% in 2013, to an average of 20% in 2019. This indicates that the rate of pet adoption was higher than the rate of in-take of the abandoned and stray animals.

Using social media intelligence tools, analytics, and data from Dallas animal shelters, we were able to measure real world change (falling euthanasia rates) against social media action (uptrends in the hashtag).

Proving real world impact

First, we saw a change in the emoji-game surrounding adoption-related posts: where pet adoption posts used to be accompanied with a high frequency of “SOS'' and “praying” emoji, similar post about pet-adoption were eventually replaced with smiling faces and sparkly hearts (Figure 3). This shift in the “emoji-tide” corresponds to euthanasia rates disclosed by Dallas animal shelters.

Image 3 - Proof it worked on SocialFigure 3: Rising and Falling Topics- Emoji used in conversations around #AdoptDontShop in the Dallas area; Infegy Atlas data.

Then, we charted the numbers of animals being adopted, and euthanasia numbers falling, against real-time post volume as #AdoptDontShop trended up (Figure 4). Data reveals a clear correlation between the up-trend in post volume and the down trend in numbers of pets being euthanized (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Graph showing how, as #AdoptDontShop trended up, Dallas shelters euthanized fewer animals, even though animal in-take also grew.


Ultimately, measuring social activism requires social intelligence tools that equip you to:

  • Get granular with the data: Discovering and analyzing the conversation around a really specific audience is key. We were able to zoom right in to the online advocacy and in the Dallas marketing district area.
  • Create custom comparisons: You need to measure online activism – be it trends, volume, interests, sentiment – against quantifiable real world impact. The more the better. We used post volume and changing topics (here, emoji).

If you’re wondering if Infegy Atlas is the tool you need to measure the effectiveness of your campaign (and much more), request a custom demo!

Additional contributor: Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst, Infegy.