Latest Study Reveals How Effective Facebook Hashtags Are (And Aren't)

EdgeRank Checker study about hashtags
To Twitter and Google Plus users, hashtags are nothing new. They are known to have been useful marketing tools for many businesses. But Facebook is another matter. Facebook introduced the fancy hashtags back in June this year, a bit late in the offering. Too late perhaps, as one latest study suggests that Facebook hashtags might not be doing you much good. In fact, they might not be doing any good at all! The Facebook analytics service, EdgeRank Checker's findings conclude that posts with hashtags don't have an edge at all over posts without them!

The study examined more than 500 well known and popular pages with a large fan following. Between them they had over 35,000 posts over the test period, with over 6,000 posts with hashtags. The study also gathered data for more than 50 Twitter profiles of some fortune 500 companies, just to compare its findings with another sample. And the results were simply astonishing.

Hypothesis contrary to fact

Theoretically, posts with hashtags in them should get more virality, since that is the whole purpose of the hashtag as introduced by Twitter. Indeed, the company assumed that;

...if people see an object in the news feed with a hashtag they’re interested in, they will click the hashtag to discover more interesting content related to the particular hashtag. Brands that talk about trending hashtags may receive additional exposure due to other Pages using hashtags because their Page may show up unexpectedly.

But the results suggested something else. Posts with hashtags perform no better than posts without hashtags. Rather, they tend to under-perform. Hashtags, in fact, resulted in lesser viral reach.

If you're attributing it to sample variance, or control variable effect, there's more news for you. The studies kept various control variables, and monitored the data ever since Facebook hashtags were launched, maintaining weekly data. It was found that the size of the fan-base had no effect on hashtag virality. Pages with a small fan-base had equally bad luck as pages with a large fan-base (Millions of fans).

In contrast, data from Twitter was also analysed, and it was found that hashtags almost doubled the virality of a tweet, and around 70% of the brands found an increased engagement with posts that had hashtags.

If you want to read the full study yourself, you can do so by following this EdgeRank Checker link.

Facebook responded to this study by saying;

When we introduce a new product at Facebook, we focus on getting the user experience right; hashtags are no different. Since they are prone to abuse from, for instance, meme Pages, we’ve been focused on fine tuning the ranking algorithms before we surface them more prominently to people.
Pages should not expect to get increased distribution simply by sticking irrelevant hashtags in their posts. The best thing for Pages (that want increased distribution) to do is focus on posting relevant, high quality-content – hashtags or not. Quality, not hashtags, is what our News Feed algorithms look for so that Pages can increase their reach.

Our Explanation

There's no simple explanation for this odd observation. However, a few theories do come to mind. One obvious explanation is that, the Facebook user who hasn't used Twitter is still an amateur, and thinks of hashtags as just a 'cool' way of expressing his/her emotions.

Another problem is the massive abuse the hashtag suffers at the hands of meme pages, and other such pages. The hashtag loses its meaning when it gets thrown about in images and what not.

But the one most logical reason for these findings can be the way professionals use them. A lot of companies use hashtags on Facebook for campaign marketing, and they tend to build new hashtags, around which they build their marketing campaigns. Facebook users are more about socializing, and less about marketing (unlike Twitter). So these users don't take kindly to promotional campaigns, which is probably the biggest reason why Facebook hashtags have failed so far.

Whether Facebook hashtags will take off, or whether they have actually failed, that's something for time to decide. In the meantime, enjoy using your hashtags, and learn to use them more effectively. Cheers :)

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  3. Quality not hasgtags - Facebook nailed it! People abused it by putting hastags #on #every #post which really makes no sense. Thanks for the enlightenment Qasim!

    1. I agree with you. People on Facebook have still a lot to learn. And thank you :)

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