Hashtags have been a mainstay on Twitter since Chris Messina sent his Tweet in August of 2007 that featured the very first attempt at organizing posts using the pound sign. That was the simple, yet brilliant thought behind hashtags; an easy way to group like tweets. Since the initial rise to prominence on Twitter, hashtags have even become staples on other platforms such as Instagram and Facebook (we’ll get to Facebook hashtags in a future post). Here’s the question though, has the effectiveness of hashtags faded on Twitter?
The argument for hashtags are a waste of time
Twitter released a report back in 2015 that guided advertisers to drop hashtags and mentions from tweets to improve click thru rates. According to this study, removing the # or @ in a tweet produced 23% more clicks. The study was aimed more so at Twitter’s direct response ads, but still, imagine Twitter itself telling businesses to go sans hashtags when they tweeted. Was this a little peek into what Twitter really thinks about hashtags or was this a focused effort for one feature on the platform where hashtags were distracting ad viewers from clicking on a link? We’ll go with option 2.
Another argument for hashtags stink
If you have worked in social media for at least 3 years you probably remember Venngage’s divisive post “We Looked At 137,052 Tweets & Found Out Hashtags Are Worthless.” It caused quite the kerfuffle in the social media marketing world in 2016 when questioning hashtags on Twitter seemed borderline insane. In short, the article focused on the spam problem Twitter was experiencing – this was before the great purge. The most engaged hashtags were bombarded by garbage accounts making it nearly impossible for a small reputable business to be seen. One such example of this was an analysis of the hashtag #ContentMarketing where most of the action was originated from questionable accounts. Since Venngage’s article was published, Twitter banished millions of less than reputable accounts in an attempt to regain order. The jury is still out on how effective this housecleaning was but there is no doubt it decreased the spam problem…somewhat.
The conclusion of Venngage’s post was to stop using hashtags and instead opt for engaging on a personal level. On its own that’s great advice but not enough to sway anyone from ceasing to use hashtags.
Hashtags are cool and effective
Spend more than 5 seconds on Twitter and you’ll see that people still use hashtags (not always properly but they use them). Why do so many people still use the pound sign to group their tweets? Probably because they still do work. Yes, we have finally reached the part of this post where hashtag proponents can let out a sigh of relief and subsequently unclench their fists. According to Sprout Social, tweets with at least one hashtag receive 12.6% more engagement than those without. Additionally, the inbound experts at HubSpot have discovered that tweets with hashtags experience 33% more retweets. Stats like the aforementioned can be found throughout the internet and with good reason, hashtags can work when used correctly. Speaking of used correctly, hashtags tend to shine during events. An original hashtag for an event (such as #SMMW19 for Social Media Marketing World 2019) can enable attendees to share images and insights with others under one big happy hashtag umbrella.
Our own findings reveal that hashtags can be effective but only when used strategically and sparingly. Adding 10 random hashtags to increase reach won’t work. For instance, if your post is regarding content marketing then use the corresponding hashtag. Avoid utilizing every hashtag related to content marketing. If you do, you’ll be placed into Twitter jail. Okay that’s not true, but you will be a spammer, and no one wants that.
So, when you use hashtags, make sure your content is related to the hashtag and don’t spam and you just might join the “hashtags are pretty cool and effective” crowd.