Do #hashtags really work?

If you’re on social media these days, you’re probably pretty familiar with the concept of the hashtag. After all, they’ve been around for nearly ten years since they first appeared on Twitter in 2007. Since then, they’ve made an appearance on nearly every social media channel, and they’ve even played a role in shaping modern news cycles.

By now, we all know what a hashtag is.

For business owners working on their social media strategy, though, the real question is whether or not hashtags are effective in generating engagement on your social media posts.

Well, the answer, like most things, isn’t cut and dry – it varies across the different social platforms, and it’s affected, obviously, by the actual content included in your posts. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how including hashtags can affect the performance of your posts across a few of the major platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Do hashtags create more engagement on Twitter?

Twitter was the channel that gave birth to the entire concept of hashtags, so it’s no surprise that when they’re used properly the answer is a definite yes. In fact, using one or two hashtags in a tweet can increase the engagement (in the form of clicks, retweets, and favorites) by as much as 21%. Be careful to avoid stuffing too many hashtags in, though, because adding more than two hashtags has actually been shown to decrease engagement by as much as 17%.

Of course, choosing the right hashtags to include is just as important as including them at all. Hashtags are used to create conversations and topics, so make sure that you’re choosing hashtags that are relevant to the content you’re tweeting. A sure sign of a Twitter novice is the use of hashtags that aren’t really tied to a relevant conversation.

For example, if you’re tweeting about an awesome promotion you’re having this week, don’t tweet something like this:

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Nobody will be looking for your tweets under a conversation about #awesome… it’s just too broad a hashtag (no matter how awesome your doughnuts are). Instead, jump into a relevant conversation about #dozendoughnuts or something similar – or even consider creating your very own hashtag to start a conversation of your own.

When used well, though, hashtags on Twitter are a bit like website search engine optimization – they’ll help you get found.

Do hashtags work on Facebook?

Facebook originally didn’t support hashtags, but once they took off on Twitter, Facebook eventually followed suit. Here’s the thing, though: hashtags don’t really matter that much on Facebook.

One of the reasons for this is that there is no way to search for a hashtag on Facebook like there is on Twitter. The only way to find the related conversation is to click on the hashtagged link itself, which is kind of lame.

At the end of the day, using hashtags on Facebook has actually been shown to negatively affect engagement – if the practice actually has any affect at all. Simply put, don’t worry about hashtags on Facebook. They aren’t going to help you on this platform.

Do hashtags work on Instagram?

Hashtags on Instagram, on the other hand, will help you increase your reach and engagement, assuming you use them correctly.

It’s common on Instagram for brands to tag their photos with hashtags that are relevant to their photos and products. The process is similar to what takes place on Twitter; hashtags are used to sort and label related topics, and users can easily search a hashtagged topic to view relevant posts.

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The biggest difference between hashtags on Twitter and Instagram is that Instagram doesn’t have the 140-character limit on its captions that Twitter imposes on its tweets. That means that including multiple hashtags is much more common on Instagram.

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Including multiple hashtags helps posts to get included in more Instagram conversations. While there’s a balance to strike between getting noticed and being obnoxious, using five or six hashtags is generally acceptable – and it will help your post get in front of more eyes.

So, do hashtags work? The answer, as we’ve seen, is dependent upon the platform and the content – but we’ll offer a qualified “yes”. Make hashtags one of the tools in your social media toolbox, and pull them out when the situation calls for it.

Want more social media expertise? At New North, as a Frederick, Maryland social media marketing company, we’re inbound marketers with a passion for helping businesses communicate with the right customers. Get in touch with us to find out how social media can play a role in generating leads and sales – and be fun, too.

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