Hashtags (#, also known as the pound or symbol sign) have long been one of Twitter’s most popular features. They help with building exposure and add a tracking mechanism for trending topics and products.
With Google +, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram not far behind, it was only a matter of time until Facebook joined the hashtag party. So when Facebook rolled out its new hashtag feature last June, few were surprised.
What has been surprising is how slow people have been to jump on the Facebook hashtag bandwagon. This may have something to do with the fact that in the early days of social media, use of hashtags on Facebook was considered an annoying sign of a novice. People often used tools like HootSuite or Tweetdeck to update multiple social media platforms simultaneously. With Twitter in mind, many used hashtags in their posts. When those same posts appeared on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, where hashtags were not part of the accepted “language”, their posts looked like they came from someone unschooled in social media protocol.
With the constant evolution of social media platforms, it’s usually a safe bet that what becomes a useful feature on one platform will be adopted by the others at some point. Since hashtags have been incredibly useful on Twitter and have found their way into most of the other platforms, Facebook finally decided to join the crowd.
Purpose of Hashtags
Hashtags allow social networkers to become a part of real-time conversations happening around keywords, such as breaking news, events, television shows, or sporting games. By inserting “#” before a keyword, your post can be picked up the constant stream of chatter surrounding it. For example, during the World Series, if you wanted to post about a batter or give a play-by-play account, you could connect with the millions of others posting about the same topic by simply inserting a hashtag like #WorldSeries at the end of your tweet.
Note: Keywords or phrases must either all run together, or else be used as two separate hashtags. No spaces are allowed. For example, you would say #WorldSeries or #World #Series, not #World Series. You could also say #worldseries – capitalization doesn’t matter.
Use of Hashtags on Facebook
On Facebook, the goal of using a hashtag is to make it easier to connect with others posting about the same topic – or to make it easier for them to find your post.
Inserting # before a word or phrase (written as one word) on Facebook turns the word/phrase into a hyperlink. You can then click on that hyperlink to find other posts about the same topic. You’ll also see related hashtags at the top of the page. In turn, others will be able to pick up your post in that keyword stream. You can search for a hashtag using the search bar at the top of any page on Facebook.
The hashtag can either appear separate from the sentence at the end of a post (i.e., Enjoying the holiday countdown… #Christmas) or be used within a sentence (i.e., “I’m so excited that #Christmas is just days away!”).
Sometimes hashtags on Facebook are silly or ironic. There’s no limit to the length of a Facebook hashtag, so someone posting about a bad commute to work could use a hashtag of #I’veGotTheMondayMorningBlues. Other times, a hashtag simply describes how a person is feeling (#nervous).
For business owners and marketers, Facebook hashtags are another opportunity to make it easier for prospects and customers to find you. Value can be found in using a hashtag for your product or service. You can create a fun tag for a current special. You may want to post an IT job opening and tag it with #ITJob. You can try to brand your Page with a unique hashtag to help an idea or new product catch on, but think carefully and make it something that others would potentially be interested in sharing and discussing. If you are too self-promotional, others will not find your hashtag valuable.
If you’re attending a conference, you can learn what the hashtag is for the event and include it with posts on your company Page. This will allow you to monitor chatter about the event and let other attendees potentially find you. Savvy social marketers at events or on television programs will announce their hashtag so everyone can follow the same stream of information. I was recently at an event where the hashtag was posted prominently on a screen up front. We were all encouraged to use it when we tweeted or posted to Facebook.
There is no hashtag “registration” or database. You can make up any hashtag you want. Just make sure it isn’t confusing or too long. Be careful not to stuff your posts with too many hashtags, or else they will become ineffective and annoying. You may want to do a little research to make sure a hashtag you think is original for your company isn’t already being used for a completely different purpose. Just use the hashtag’s Facebook URL (www.facebook.com/hashtag/keyword) to look for existing usages.
Effectiveness of Hashtags
The jury is still out as to whether hashtags actually increase viral reach on Facebook. Some surveys have indicated that hashtags don’t actually increase social exposure and may, in fact, have a negative impact, making your post less likely to appear in Facebook’s News Feed. (News Feed is based on a complicated algorithm called EdgeRank.)
Most likely, the reason why is because businesses have been creating hashtags that are too self-promotional in nature. As a result, people are not clicking on the hyperlinked hashtags. Also, EdgeRank’s algorithm rewards high-quality posts that include interaction (likes, comments, and shares) and images or videos. If such high-quality posts happened to include a hashtag, that hashtag would enjoy greater reach than one used in a less-quality post.
As businesses and individuals continue to experiment with how to use Facebook hashtags effectively, and as Facebook continues to tweak the algorithm and make adjustments to how hashtags work, we can expect to see a greater degree of usage and success.