If you've made it a point to stuff your Facebook marketing posts with hashtags in hopes that it will go viral -- or at least reach a few extra people -- it turns out all that effort might not have mattered. According to a new report from Facebook post rating service EdgeRank Checker, posts with hashtags actually perform worse than those without.
Twitter, the birthplace of the hashtag, where phrases hyperlinked and prefaced with a # symbol will lead us to other related content, has us in the habit of assuming that's how it works everywhere else. Which makes sense, since Instagram, Tumblr, Vine and other social-media companies have adopted similar protocols. But apparently on Facebook -- the last major holdout to implement hashtag hyperlinking -- hashtags don't do anything to help businesses reach customers searching in a related space.
According to EdgeRank, posts with hashtags have a median viral reach of 0.8 percent compared to posts without hashtags, which have a median viral tech of 1.3 percent. The same counterintuitive skew applies to metrics across the board. Hashtagged posts have a median fan engagement, of 0.22 percent versus 0.25 percent and a median organic fan reach of 12.47 percent versus 13.36 percent, respectively.
When EdgeRank clicked on its own #edgerank hashtag the two returns were Mari Smith, a well-known social-media marketer with more than 100,000 fans, and Facebook Studio, which has more than 1 million. "We were surprised to see the data reflect this," EdgeRank founder Chad Wittman writes on the company blog. "We hypothesized that perhaps only very large Pages experience an increase in Viral Reach due to the selection process of which brands are displayed once clicking a hashtag."
But even then, EdgeRank's data shows the median rate of virality for pages with more than 1 million fans is still lower for hashtagged posts. Those with hashtags have a median viral reach of 12.47 percent and those without have a stronger reach of 13.36 percent.
"Examining engagement showed that regardless of fan size, using hashtags did not have a positive impact on a brand's engagement," Wittman said. "Examining Viral Reach per fan size also illustrates that using a hashtag does not increase viral exposure. This is a surprise for us, as we would have been certain that using a hashtag would have caused an increase in Viral Reach, even if it were a small increase."
EdgeRank's study isn't definitive. And it's worth noting that although it makes some comparisons between hashtag performance on Twitter and Facebook, the way people receive information on each social network is different.
What appears in our Facebook news feed is unique to each individual -- determined by his or her privacy settings, likes, friend connections and which Pages the person follows. When users click on a Facebook hashtags, they'll only see other posts with the same hashtags from the Pages they're connected to. No two Facebook feeds are the same.
On Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Tumblr, it's a little different. Users see tweets from their followers in their feed, but when they search for a hashtag, they'll see results from all public users, whether they follow them or not.
When asked for its own data, a Facebook spokesperson said Hashtags are still "too new to get solid data points" but that the viral success of a post depends more on high-quality content than on "sticking irrelevant hashtags in their posts."
"When we introduce a new product at Facebook, we focus on getting the user experience right; hashtags are no different," the spokesperson added. "Since they are prone to abuse from, for instance, meme Pages, we've been focused on fine tuning the ranking algorithms before we surface them more prominently to people."