Should You Use Hashtags on Facebook?

​Hashtags are one of the most commonly queried elements of social media marketing, particularly amongst people just starting out. And that makes sense – hashtags can be confusing as they’re not words within a sentence, necessarily, but topic matches that help improve discoverability. Some people think tagging every word will help, because it’ll mean your content will show up in more conversations, but that’s a flawed theory. In order to maximize the performance of hashtags, you need to conduct research in order to develop an understanding of which tags are most relevant to your business, and which are most likely to connect with people looking for discussion related to your focus topics.

And that’s just the beginning of your hashtag understanding.

Another key element you need to consider is how hashtags are used on different platforms. There’s a heap of articles about this, looking at how hashtags are used, and how you should apply them on each platform. And one of the most common questions that comes up relates to their use on Facebook, specifically.

The confusion around hashtags on Facebook is that hashtags are active on the platform – unlike LinkedIn, where they’re simply not clickable (which largely negates their functionality), Facebook has tried to make hashtags a part of their search and discovery process.

So should you use hashtags on your Facebook posts? Will they help you get more reach?

Here’s what we know.

Hashtag Evolution
Facebook introduced hashtags back in 2013, following their rising use and application on other platforms, most notably on Twitter.

At the time, Facebook was very keen to push their use on the platform, even prompting Facebook advertisers, specifically, to include them.

“If you're already using hashtags in an advertising campaign through other channels, you can amplify these campaigns by including your hashtags in Facebook advertising. The same creative best practices on Facebook still apply – compelling copy and photography that is in the brand voice works best.”
This was also around the same time that Facebook was looking to ramp up their on-platform search and discovery efforts through the introduction of Graph Search, an advanced search engine which aimed to change the way people used the platform by providing the option to use semantic, or conversational, type queries.

And Graph Search was great – it was hugely beneficial for marketers as it enabled far more complex searches.

But you’ll note I said ‘was’.

Graph Search had various problems, most notably in terms of privacy. You see, through Graph Search you could find out a heap of information, a lot of which users weren’t particularly keen on making public. People, of course, have, and always have had, the capacity to control what’s made available via search, but the complexity of Facebook’s various privacy settings meant many weren’t as covered as they would like, and thus, the implementation of Graph Search lead to a lot of complaints.

Tom Scott compiled a heap of questionable Graph Search queries which were subsequently reported on by various major outlets, sparking concerns about the then new option

On top of this, Graph Search queries didn’t always work, something Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted a year after launch. These issues delayed the rollout of the option on mobile, and the combination of these factors subsequently de-railed the Graph Search project and saw it de-emphasized by Facebook. Late last year, Facebook introduced their alternative, an improved mobile search functionality which focuses more on auto-suggest matches than personal queries. You can still use some Graph Search queries, but because of the more private nature of Facebook's network, the option never really fit.

The evolution of Facebook search is particularly relevant when examining how hashtags function on the network. When Facebook introduced hashtags, they were looking to open up the platform, to make everything more searchable and connect everyone based on all the data Facebook has on each person. But users didn’t necessarily want that. While Twitter is, in the majority, an open network, where everything you tweet is added into the wider, global conversation, Facebook's more private, more aimed at hosting discussions among your immediate connections and networks.

And that’s a crucial consideration when looking at hashtag effectiveness on the network.

Hashtags in Practice
One of the most comprehensive posts on hashtag use and recommendations is this one by Buffer’s blogger extraordinaire Kevan Lee. Lee breaks down all the key, data-backed recommendations for hashtag use across all the major networks, including Facebook.

So what does the data conclude about hashtag use on The Social Network?

“Facebook posts without a hashtag fare better than those with a hashtag.”

And while Lee does recommend that people should test for themselves, rather than going on the research alone, that finding has been supported by various subsequent studies.

A 2016 report from BuzzSumo, which analyzed more than a billion Facebook posts from over 30 million brand Pages, came to exactly the same conclusion – posts without hashtags generated more reach than those with tags added.

Given the sample size, that’s pretty conclusive evidence, though there are other considerations to take into account.

As noted in research by Socialbakers, the use of more hashtags leads to significantly less engagement on Facebook.

As there’s no limit on how many tags you can use on Facebook, people, over time, have abused them, adding them to every word and mention in the hopes of expanding their reach. That obviously makes the updates themselves harder to read and thus lowers engagement – if that were happening on a wide enough scale, that could cause a significant decline in overall engagement with hashtagged posts on The Social Network, which could be a contributing factor in their overall lower response rates on the platform.

There’s also the consideration of cross-posting – people (still) often link up their Twitter and Facebook accounts and cross-post to the two, meaning any hashtags you've used in your tweet also come up on your Facebook post. Which, again, makes your Facebook posts less appealing and also reduces engagement.

Due to these factors, Buffer’s advice is correct - the only true way to measure the performance of hashtags on Facebook, for you and your brand Page, is to conduct your own tests. But that said, the research data pretty conclusively indicates they hashtags are not adding anything, and may even be hurting your reach.

In Practice...
So given this research, what does this mean for actual, practical use of hashtags on Facebook?
Here’s a quick example.

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