Should You Use Hashtags on Facebook?
Hashtags are widely used on many social platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and more. In the research I have done at IMEG, we have found that hashtags on Facebook are not a good idea. Hashtags, at the core use, is for discoverability. On channels like Instagram, it's the only way to really discover anything, so it is a must-have. For a channel like Facebook, this is not the case. We see many of our competitors use, and in most cases overuse, hashtags on Facebook and we rarely do, so I wondered - “are we missing something that others are doing?” So I sought out to do some testing and research. Here's what I found:
Why We Think Brands and Agencies Use Hashtags
- They are headline readers and just follow what everyone else does.
- They are tagging so they show up in more conversions to get more reach.
- They are doing it to easily find all their content that’s related to a topic or theme.
- Some other reason we just can't seem to find any logic behind.
In 2013, Facebook launched hashtags, and we believe there were 2 reasons for the launch.
- Twitter and other channels had them and they didn’t. Maybe they felt users wanted them like on other channels.
- This was also around the same time Facebook wanted to compete with Google for search and hashtags can help with search if everyone tags correctly.
Graph search was great and really helped marketers dig even deeper into demographics and psychographics of the users on Facebook. This put some of the public on alert since people, by default, could see so much more about themselves than before. This re-railed the graph search project.
The evolution of Facebook search is particularly relevant when examining how hashtags function on the network. When Facebook introduced hashtags, they were looking to open up the platform and make everything more searchable to connect everyone based on all of Facebook’s data. But, users didn’t want that much information available to everyone. If we look at Twitter, it is, in the majority, an open network where everything you tweet is added into the wider, global conversation on the platform, but Facebook more private, more about hosting discussions among your immediate connections and networks of people.
So back to the core point to be made - should you use hashtags on Facebook?
Nothing is ever 100% one way; we do not live in a black and white world. For the mass majority, NO, you should rarely if ever use a hashtag on Facebook. This analogy I understand is really oversimplifying the point on hashtags, but will bring some clarity if you are new to social media. Is yelling bad? In a nice 5-star restaurant, yes, but at a football game, it is encouraged. We have the same situation here. On Instagram, you must use hashtags and you must do the research to make sure you are using the right hashtags, but Facebook is not Instagram and the only relation between the two platforms is that people use them both and they are both, obviously, owned by Facebook. They are very different platforms and should be managed and used differently.
In a 2016 report from BuzzSumo, they analyzed more than 1 billion Facebook posts from over 30 million brand pages. They came to exactly the same conclusion – posts without hashtags generated more reach than those with tags added.
A study by Socialbakers also shows the use of more hashtags leads to significantly less engagement on Facebook.
This could be due to 2 reasons. The masses just don't use or care about hashtags on Facebook since it's not the nature of the platform or Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm has seen people spam the system the same as people spam Google's PageRank algorithm so they throttle back reach when you use them. Either way for the majority of the time, we suggest you stop using them. Since there’s no limit to how many tags you can use on Facebook, people, over time, have abused them, adding them to every word and mention in the hopes of expanding their reach. That obviously makes the updates themselves harder to read and lowers engagement. If that were happening on a wide enough scale, it could cause a significant decline in overall engagement for posts with hashtags which could be a contributing factor in their overall lower response rates on the platform.
It could also be that Facebook is tired of of cross-posting. Yes, many agencies and brands often link up their Instagram and Facebook accounts and cross-post to the two with the same message, meaning any hashtags you've used in an Instagram post also shows up on your Facebook post. Which, again, makes your Facebook posts less engaging.
In conclusion, the research say no, don’t use hashtags on Facebook. But, the system is built to accommodate their use. Because of this, the real answer, for you, likely comes down to your specific audience and how attuned they are to hashtag use. If you have not done the research or have a strategic plan for them, you should stop because they are ruining your engagement.
We sometimes use them in branded hashtags where we may choose a hashtag for Twitter and Instagram, but also use it on Facebook just to drive awareness around that hashtag but the plan and strategy must be well thought out. The rules we live by, for the most part, is don't use more than one hashtag and always be testing and using your analytics to see if you get the end result you want. Be sure you are doing it with a clear purpose so your efforts are meeting your core objective.