Clickable hashtags were introduced on Facebook in the middle of June. This feature offers brands new possibilities of marketing communication as according to the official Facebook blog, it constitutes a new way for people and business to discover and engage in conversations. It is still difficult to evaluate its effectiveness. Although there are multiple tips how to use hashtags like the ones given by AllFacebook.com or Ignite Social Media agency, in order to boost Facebook performance, still the number of myths about them outweighs the number of verified facts.
Sotrender Research Team analyzed top 100 biggest Facebook Pages of UK brands, in order to examine hard data regarding the use of hashtags and its effectiveness. To the best of our knowledge, it’s first such a study published worldwide.
How the brands use hashtags?
Since the rolling out, the popularity of hashtags has grown constantly that can be seen on the chart below:
Currently hashtags are added to every other post, but both their overall popularity and the number of them per post are growing. On the other side, some brands still have not tried to use hashtags. So far, only 61 of 100 top UK brands have published a post with at least one of them. Out of those who did, most used no more than 4 unique tags, as it is shown on Figure 2. Hence it’s not clear whether it’s better to use few hashtags strongly connected with the brand or many general hashtags, we checked how many unique tags top 100 UK brand pages used during the analyzed period:
As you can see, most of the pages didn’t use hashtags nor did it 2-4 times. Among them, there were the ones that used one hashtag only in one post, but there were also pages that published one hashtag multiple times like Pepsi Max that wrote the tag #livefornow 5 times or Fox Searchlight Pictures that 8 times used the tag #wearetheeast referring to a new film. Apparently, it might be a deliberate strategy to use few hashtags strongly connected with the brand. Another possible choice is using many general hashtags. As much as 21% of all analyzed pages used 5 or more tags. Leaders in this category were: Troy Lee Designs (56 different hashtags), BBC Radio (47) and Red Bull Racing (35). Most often used tags are shown on this tagcloud. What’s interesting, quite a lot of them relates to F1 GPs at Silverstone and Nuremberg.
Do the hashtags influence engagement? On Figure 4 we compared average engagement of posts with and without hashtags, before and after their introduction.
The chart shows that after the introduction of hashtags, the posts containing them started to gain higher average number of engagedusers (users who performed at least one activity concerning particular post – liking, commenting, etc.) than before. You can see the peaks of engagement caused by the posts with hashtags, but it is hard to say whether the posts containing hashtags are significantly better than the ones without them.
Other possible explanation of this phenomenon is the fact that hashtags were adopted faster by pages which engage users better and in general adopt innovations faster. On the whole, the number of engaged people on the top pages is growing in time.
The best way to show the impact of the use of hashtags is to take into consideration only those pages that published posts both with and without hashtags after their introduction to Facebook, and compare the engagement of both groups with the engagement of posts published earlier. 61 out of 100 analyzed pages meet these conditions. The average engagement for these pages’ posts is shown below:
As you can see, both posts with and without hashtags after 12th June engage more users than average post before introducing of hashtags. This might be explained by the growth in terms of fans, engagement and interactivity in general in time.
What’s more interesting is the fact that posts with hashtags engaged more fans than those without. However, the difference is not so big. The increased total engagement itself caused slightly bigger difference.
Another interesting factor is whether to use only one or more hashtags in a post. Figure presented below gives a surprising conclusion:
61 brands that used hashtags in their posts, 134 times employed two or more than two hashtags, while 413 posts contained only one tag. The number of hashtags in a post seems relevant, but surprisingly posts with only one hashtag were less engaging than those without. The difference between them was subtle, but posts containing 2 or 3 hashtags engaged way more users. This proves the importance of deliberate hashtag strategy that will include the schedule and number of hastags in posts, while giving us consistent conclusion that so far there is no significant difference between posts with and without hashtags.What is more, the presence of a hashtag in a post makes it longer for it to gather 50% of all the activities as likes, comments and shares. The difference is not so big, however if it would remain in next couple of weeks it might be the effect of the actions made by users who found post through the hashtag search.
To conclude, the influence of hashtags is not as great as one might expect. The data from UK top 100 biggest brand pages show that hashtags have a positive impact on the engagement, but so far this relationship is weak.
What one might consider as weak someone might judge as strong, but you may compare these results with the after-effects of introducing timeline, which were also analyzed by Sotrender Research Team and posted on our blog.
The analysis covers the period between 1st, May and 5th, July. The forthcoming weeks will give us the answer how great is the influence of hashtags, but as we have shown you cannot underestimate them. In process of time, we will know how hashtags affect content organization on Facebook and Graph Search but developing of consistent hashtag strategy may result crucial to benefit from Facebook innovations.
What can you expect?