Study: Facebook hashtags may 'do nothing' to help promote posts

Daniel Bean, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

#Bummer.

It’s been several months since Facebook implemented the hashtag (#) element in its social media network, a trending topic tool first made popular by Twitter. Though the site might have originally “liked” the idea of piggybacking on the success of the Twitter hashtag, new data suggests that it’s not quite working out that way yet.

In a recent blog post on the Facebook analytics site EdgeRank Checker, ERC employees explained that they had dug into the data to measure the impact of hashtags on Facebook’s news feed and that, to their surprise, found that there was none. In fact, according to EdgeRank Checker’s findings, “posts with hashtags have less Viral Reach than posts without hashtags.”

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The viral reach of posts with hashtags and those without.

EdgeRank Checker studied 500 Facebook pages in the month of July to calculate the data shown. In the over 35,000 posts by these pages, only 6,000 included hashtags. Factoring in the number of fans/friends of each page, the posts without hashtags, on average, garnered more attention by way of likes and comments.

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A view of the conversation surrounding the hashtag #EdgeRank on Facebook.

Posts on Twitter, meanwhile, displayed an uptick in retweets when a hashtag was included, per EdgeRank Checker. “For [tweets], using a hashtag typically resulted in roughly double the likelihood of being ReTweeted. Over 70% of the brands experienced an increase in RT’s when using a hashtag versus not using one.”

And it’s not as if Twitter is the only social network to see the popularization of posts via hashtag. Instagram, a Facebook property, sees a much higher Like rate for picture posts that include a hashtag vs. those that do not, according to data put together by social media scientist and author Dan Zarrella.

So why is Facebook on the outside looking in when it comes to lucrative hashtagging? The EdgeRank Checker blog concludes that, on Facebook, “Hashtags are often used in promotional material…By nature, campaigns are promotional, therefore more likely to drive less engagement, less clicks, and ultimately less Reach.”

When contacted by Yahoo News, Facebook said that it’s simply too early to gauge its users’ temperature on hashtags.

"When we introduce a new product at Facebook, we focus on getting the user experience right; hashtags are no different,” a Facebook representative told Yahoo News. “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.”

In addition, Facebook seems to think that, at least for now, the quality of posts is more important than simple hashtag placement, explaining that, “Pages should not expect to get increased distribution (what some call virality) simply by sticking irrelevant hashtags in their posts.”

As Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are clearly different animals, should we expect the device to play the same role across all social network platforms? At least for now, the answer seems to be #no.

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