Wait, Do Hashtags Work Anymore?

Are you developing your social media strategy? There are plenty of things you need to think about. One pressing question that you need to answer before you construct your strategy is, “Should I use hashtags on social media?” Or try, “Should I use hashtags on Facebook?” “Should I use hashtags on Twitter?”

Of course I should, you’re thinking, right?

But wait, “Do hashtags work anymore?” The latest research tends to indicate that hashtags aren’t as effective as they once were–if they were ever effective at all. You may need to construct a social media strategy that doesn’t rely on hashtags in order to be effective. Let’s take a deeper look to figure it out.

So, Why Were Hashtags Important?

Hashtags allowed users to start a social media conversation and track it across either a single channel or multiple channels. Hashtags have their own unique URL and allow users to search specifically for items within that topic, whether it’s a brand, an event, or a particular concept that’s currently blowing up the internet. They were used to unite conversations and allow the same great discourse created in groups without the need to manage them. It also helped that the concept of hashtags was designed according to the way that users were already using social media platforms.

In the beginning, this setup made hashtags a valuable tool that many marketers were able to use to raise awareness about their business, share new programs and promotions, and enhance conversations about their brand. It allowed cohesion across channels as the same hashtag was used on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels. The problem is, technology changes as user behaviors change–and the hashtag that was once so popular has become a tool to be abused by many spam accounts.

Should I Be Using Hashtags on Facebook?

This is a question that people keep coming back to. It’s a heated debate among many marketing professionals: is it valuable to use hashtags on Facebook? How do hashtags work on Facebook? It would seem that marketing professionals cannot agree. Some insist that hashtags are still relevant on Facebook. Others, however, argue that hashtags aren’t accomplishing what their users want them to–that is, increased user engagement.

Research indicates that on Facebook, posts without hashtags perform better than posts that have them. They’re more likely to receive likes, shares, and comments than posts that contain hashtags. For a conversational form that seems extremely effective, it may be difficult to understand why this is the case–until you factor in abuse of the system.

Because there is no limit on the number of words you can place in your post, hashtags are also unlimited–and that means an unwieldy post that users skim right past in favor of posts that are easier to digest.

Facebook does show a completely different set of search results when users search for hashtags than they do when users search for a specific word. This means that there is some minimal search traffic available for hashtags. Overall, however, using hashtags is simply impractical for most of today’s marketers.

So, “Should I be using hashtags on Facebook?” The short answer is, “No.”

Should I Be Using Hashtags on Twitter?

When Twitter first grew in popularity, hashtags were everything. They effortlessly combined individuals talking about the same subject–even if they weren’t already connected–into one stream. Unfortunately, questionable and spam accounts have taken over Twitter hashtags, with many more of these users on most hashtags than legitimate users who are genuinely interested in continuing the conversation. The more spam users there are, the harder it is for users to sort out genuine content that is actually of value to them. As a result, they stop following hashtags, making them meaningless for most businesses.

Tweets don’t perform any better when they’re stuffed with hashtags, either. In fact, the more hashtags a tweet has, the less engagement it sees. Not only that, hashtags use up vital characters: when you only have 140 characters to get your point across, using hashtags means that you’re giving up a chunk of your post space. For marketers, that space is better used to include a call to action, to offer a link back to your website, or to choose more visual words that will enhance user experience.

The best tweets are the ones that, rather than focusing on connecting your users through a hashtag, use the business’s voice to connect with users on an emotional level. They use visual language that helps users engage and interact with the post. Hashtags accomplish none of those purposes–making the answer to, “Should I be using hashtags on Twitter?” a definitive “No.”

Then What Do I Do Without My #Hashtags?

The time of the hashtag is over, at least on Facebook and Twitter. While it’s still a useful tool on Instagram, hashtags no longer fill the role that marketers had hoped for. As hashtags disappear, you’ll need something else to fill that void–and keyword research is a great way to fill in the gaps that hashtags once filled.

Instead of focusing on the hashtags that are relevant for your business, try using keyword research to discover more information about your market’s interest in specific topics. You can also explore what your customers are engaging with on social media to identify demand or interest in specific keywords across your social media channels. It’s time to ditch the hashtag and embrace the new patterns of social media marketing.

Matthew Allard

Sales at Verblio is a wonderful thing for the simple fact that our content service removes the headaches of managing writers, deadlines, writer's block, and even editing from our customers. When I'm not teaching business owners and marketers how to get the content they need from Verblio, I'm probably running trails in the Front Range, snowboarding or backpacking with my wife.

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