Hashtags were first used in social media on Twitter in 2007 and were officially introduced to Facebook in 2013, creating active clickable links.
However, while hashtags hold importance on Twitter and Instagram, it is not the same with Facebook.
This is because the world’s most popular social media platform is mainly for connecting with people you already know: family, friends, and co-workers.
Twitter and Instagram are open for followers (including strangers), which means they are public by default. Hashtags on these platforms can be a great way for potential followers to discover you, but on Facebook, hashtags can actually do more harm than good.
According to Facebook itself, hashtags “turn topics and phrases into clickable links in your posts on your personal Timeline or Page. This helps people find posts about topics they’re interested in”.
However, unlike Twitter and Instagram, hashtags on Facebook show no increase in reach or engagement.
From my own testing in the Jordanian, Iraqi, and Lebanese markets in 2013, and the UAE market in 2014-2016, I did not experience any notable change in reach (not a positive one, at least) while using hashtags.
This was also the experience of others as well, as studies (including by Edgerank Checker) show that posts without hashtags can outperform those with them.
Think about it: how many people do you know that would click on a hashtag willingly?
From a user experience perspective, that doesn’t seem like a frequent user behavior on Facebook. And although Facebook search has become friendlier with hashtags, I don’t imagine many people searching for a specific hashtag like they do for people and brand names.
Also keep in mind that Facebook lets you search in the same way for any topic, hashtagged or not. So, you can simply use the keyword in your post without a hashtag and it’ll have the same effect.
Hashtags can divert traffic from your posts if the user mistakenly thought it was a link—I’ve witnessed this happening before. Always keep in mind that not everyone is as tech-savvy as you!
Plus, they can look ugly on a post.
However, I do not advocate ditching hashtags entirely on Facebook. Here are six occasions when it is safe to do so.
- You can use it as a brand statement. An example would be a hashtag I used with a brand I previously worked with. I used #TuesdayTips to offer a new tip each Tuesday. That can also be used in cross-channel campaigns
- Making a point or being humorous, such as the now-famous #YOLO.
- Letting the user know what the post’s topic is quickly, simply by taking a glimpse at your hashtag on their newsfeed. Example: #NewYear.
- When less is more; you post a photo of something you love with only a #love hashtag, or post a great photo of the city with a #MyDubai hashtag.
- If you’re cross-posting from Instagram, which is not a bad idea considering it’s a good way to cross-promote your channels and the fact that images posted from Instagram on Facebook get 23 percent more engagement than native images.
- As part of a general discussion or to view related news on an event
So, if you’re going to use hashtag on Facebook, here are few recommendations to remember:
- Use only one hashtag per post. Or at least no more than three. More than one is not recommended. More than three is ridiculous.
- Use it in a separate line, or at least at the end of your copy, not within or at the beginning.
- Understand the technical side of the hashtag. For example, you cannot use special characters (such as &, £, or !) in a hashtag, and a hyphen separates words, not connects them as the underscore does (I often see this one in Arabic hashtags, considering you cannot connect the words together directly).
- Keep your hashtag relevant and don’t spam. Hashtagging every city you can think of hoping that someone from these places might see your post is not good practice.
- As in everything in marketing, think with the user in mind. Would your typical audience be looking for something on this hashtag? A great example is if you are a pet shop owner. In this case, posting ‘#cats’ is a promising idea considering the amount of time people waste browsing content such as cat photos.
- It’s worth doing quick research in the Facebook search box to see which variation of your hashtag is most used. You can simply start typing it and Facebook will suggest some of the most used hashtags and how many “people are talking about this.” Just don’t immediately pick the most used; pick the one that is most relevant to your post.
- Don’t hashtag your brand name, unless there’s a clear reason (like people already talking about your brand).
- Avoid single hashtags that are too long to read. And if you still plan to, at least capitalize the beginning of each word.