Hashtags have become common across most social media platforms. To some, the symbol represents a way to connect with millions of people who are interested in the same topic. To others, they are nothing more than a pound symbol found on the lower right button of a landline phone. However you view them, they are hard to avoid. How did the pound symbol become a cultural phenomenon? Should marketers use them? Are they effective? It’s time for answers.
Hashtags first appeared on the digital media scene in 1988 where one of the first online chatrooms called Internet Relay Chat used them to categorize items like images, messages, video and other content into groups. The symbol didn’t attract mainstream attention until about 20 years ago when Twitter made it trendy. Chris Messina, a social technology expert, is the modern-era father of the hashtag. He is credited to have come up with the very first hashtag on Twitter in August 2007. The innovative tweet was:
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp??
Yes, #barcamp was the hashtag that started the craze. However, as you may have realized, Messina did not use the term “hashtag.” The name originated from a blog post by postfuturist and TEDx regular Stowe Boyd. In 2009, Twitter officially adopted the use of hashtags into code, making it possible for users to group topics together. After seeing the wide appeal, Facebook incorporated hashtags in 2013. Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ soon followed the trend.
Are hashtags effective?
The effectiveness of hashtags depends on your medium and the audience behavior on that social platform. According to Buddy Media’s study where they analyzed user engagement from 320+ Twitter handles of the world’s biggest brandsTwitter is a hotspot for hashtag engagement. They found that tweets with one or more hashtags have a 21% higher engagement rate. However, research also found that tweets with more than two hashtags had an engagement rate drop of 17%. We see Twitter as a great medium for hashtags and engaging in popular social conversations, but marketers should beware that overuse may come off as spam to the consumer.
How about Facebook? Research tells us to keep away from Facebook hashtags. Social marketing company Socialbakers found that using hashtags on Facebook has zero positive effect on reach. Much like Twitter, research also shows an inverse relationship between the number of hashtags used on Facebook and the engagement rate.
In contrast, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, sees great engagement in hashtags. A study done by a market research company called TrackMaven tells us that hashtags on Instagram are unique. Posts containing 11 or more hashtags see the highest level of engagement on this platform. The data comes from a set of users with 1,000 or fewer followers, which shows that small businesses can create engaging content by using multiple, relevant hashtags.
Should marketers use hashtags?
The answer really depends on the demographics of the audience that you are trying to reach. Hashtags see more engagement on platforms primarily used by younger audiences. The majority of Instagram and Twitter’s audiences are between the ages of 18 and 29. When targeting this age group on these platforms, marketers should consider using appropriate hashtags.
Facebook, which has more than twice the number of users as Instagram and Twitter combined, has an older audience. According to research done by the digital marketing and website development company Jetscram, 31% of Facebook users are between the ages of 35-54. When targeting an older market, marketers should refrain from using hashtags to avoid confusing their consumers.
L2TMedia stays up-to-date with the latest social marketing trends. We customize all of our client’s Facebook marketing strategies to ensure they hit their desired KPIs every month. Learn more about our Social Impact and Paid Social products and see how L2TMedia can help your business grow.