In 2007 a few things happened in the tech world that would shake the way nearly everyone would spend their time online.
First, the iPhone launched. Enough said.
Second, Facebook just opened their doors to the world of 13 years olds and beyond.
BluRay DVDs were all the rage
The first #HashTag was conceived.
Oh yeah, Incubus punched the massive music industry in the gut with their self released album for download and at a price their fans chose to pay.
You might be reflecting on how much things have changed in ten years.
Well, you can’t even go online with that first iPhone, it won’t work.
DVDs are filling the dusty corners of Good Will stores around the country.
I now listen to whatever band I want, whenever I want on Spotify for free, yet I spend way more money today on going to live gigs of bands I never would have heard of if left to the marketing devices of the major record labels. Thank you Incubus.
Obviously they’re still being used, and promoted throughout internet marketing gurus as a ‘must do’ in order to join the discussions they want to be a part of and engage with the audience they want to reach … right?
Well, not so fast. Let’s take a step back.
If you didn’t know, #HashTags were (basically) brought about at the suggestion that Twitter adopt using the Pound symbol, that was used in a programming language since the 70’s to denote immediate address mode.
At first, Twitter was hesitant about using the hashtag, until the 2007 San Diego forest fires broke out and the HashTag was used. This application is actually quite interesting, we’ll loop back to this example shortly.
As social media scaled forward, it’s application of quality search functions lagged.
Actually, search on social platforms just plain sucked, making the hashtag a popular way to discover topics of relevance. And it’s place wasn’t short lived by any means!
But what has to be considered is that since this time, social platform search intelligence and over all user experience has increased exponentially and thus has lessened the value of hashtags for search query.
Add to that, the popularity of hashtags on open platforms such as twitter, allowed for ANYONE to join a discussion and attach themselves to others involved. As the use of hashtags grew in popularity, so too did their use among spammers given the opportunity the hashtag phenomena offered to rapidly syndicate and automatically associate their initiative to countless users within shared groups of interest. In short time, hashtags became synonymous spam.
So where does that leave hashtags in your social media campaigns, promotions or martial arts school?
In short, there is value to be had with using hashtags, but probably not what you think.
Let’s take a close look at the main three platforms (at the time of writing), and the current state of hashtag use, the most recent data, and then I’ll invite you to build a hashtag strategy of your own.
Since the hashag started here, I’ll begin with my findings here.
Non-contextual, broad hashtags can be highly detrimental to engagement opportunity. There are an estimated 15 billion false notifications generated by Twitter per month. These notifications are powered by hashtags and this volume has caused the validity of the practice to be regarded with less and less value.
Do not use hashtags that are intended to be broad reaching, i.e.. #karate, #jiujitsu. Broad reaching hashtags invite bots. You don’t want that. They are like leaving your garbage on your porch in order to keep your house clean. Makes sense now, but in the morning you’ll wake up to the decimation on your patio, in your yard and down the road – brought about by a pack of raccoons. The neighbors see your thrown away bills, passers-by see what you like to eat, your bathroom waste basket yield is strewn about the road and everything stinks. It’s kind of the same thing using broad reaching hashtags on your Twitter post.
Broad reaching, non-contextual hashtags attract bots, driving false signals and data that skews your campaign results and makes a mess of your efforts.
Do we just stop using hashtags on Twitter? No.
A proper hashtag strategy for hashtag use should be centered on ‘engagement’ versus ‘notification’. Following are the proper steps for hashtag use currently on Twitter.
Facebook adopted hashtags, but never gave them much weight. They were sort of the next door neighbors kid that you welcomed in your house and fed, but when it’s time to go … Well, it’s time to go.
Facebook’s take on hashtags is interesting, as you simply will not find much of anything in user’s response in their help forums (at least I didn’t) to questions posed about hashtags.
What I will tell you, is that when I personally went through 6 months of Facebook Go training, my trainer (a Facebook employee, not third party) told me to ignore hashtags. “They’re basically useless for marketers” he giggled, “No matter what you read, our algorithm gives them zero value.”
When I repeated what he said, he confirmed with a “why would Facebook want you to use a method of content discovery within our platform that isn’t ours and cannot provide you with critical result data for you to maximize?”
He assured me that the search feature within Facebook gave results beyond hashtags, providing me intelligent analytics data, etc. Makes sense as they are Google’s competitor in search, not Twitter’s competitor in hashtags.
Then should you use hashtags on your Facebook campaigns? Not me. Why?
Posts with Hashtags get less engagement. Period. According to a study done by BuzzSumo, +34% better visibility to Facebook posts without hastags.
Contacts all have varying contact privacy settings for how they share and accept content, thus making accurate analytics through hastags impossible. And if you’re not collecting your results and testing them, you’re wasting time and money.
Facebook’s declining organic reach. Facebook no longer uses ‘generic point value’ algorithm, rather they use a ‘learning based’ algorithm for surfacing content. This is extremely important to understand. If you don’t click on hashtags, you won’t be served posts that have them. Few people ‘click’ on them, so less people see them, making them a waste of your time and limiting engagement opportunity significantly.
They are clutter. Going back to the point raised about Twitter, users now associate hashtags with spam. Garbage on your porch, that made sense when you did it … But it’s visually ugly, and given the amount of time users spend on Facebook daily, the experience they have – and the short period of time you share your name with that experience – means it better be darn well pleasing.
Summary: Focus on valuable keywords baked into well thought content that is meant to deliver value to your audience and engage with them on a topic relevant to their interest.
Instagram rocks. It’s simple to use, extremely popular and highly versatile for anyone looking to attract an audience or share visual content. In 2016, Instagram shifted their content display feature from chronological order to one based on post popularity. So did this change affect how hashtags influenced content syndication throughout their network. A study pointed out by …
Avg impression per tagged post: 1,630
Avg Impression per tagless post: 1,677
Result: 2.88% increase without hashtags
Avg reach for posts that use hashtags: 1,250
Avg reach for posts that do not use hashtags: 1,274
Result: 1.92% increase without hashtags
Avg for posts that do not use tags: 86 likes and one comment
Avg for posts that use tags: 120 likes and two comments
Result: 28% more engagement for posts with hashtags
To summarize the results, those looking to expand their reach and grow their audience, hashtags carry no real value. But if you are looking to engage with your audience, then the use hastags frequently, but have a strategy. And test your results.
But honestly, I have seen many groups who use instagram regularly overwhelm their posts with hashtags. Don’t do this. The old standard was fifteen, I don’t recommend beyond nine. But once again, are they even necessary for the goal of your post and the campaign it supports?