In early June, Facebook rolled out a new feature that supports the use of hashtags. Hashtags are topics or phrases that add context to your post. When you click on them, you can see other posts that include that particular hashtag.
Introduced by Twitter and adopted by Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, they’re composed of a number sign and a word or phrase. For example, two hashtags appropriate for this article would be #Facebook and #hashtagfail.
If you haven’t guessed it already, this borrowed feature didn’t work so well for Facebook. On Sept. 3, a study released by Edgerank showed that hashtags had zero viral impact on Facebook. In fact, posts that used hashtags had less exposure.
In contrast, Edgerank found that Twitter posts using hashtags resulted in nearly double the likelihood of being ReTweeted (a measure of Twitter’s virality). So what’s the difference?
Facebook hashtags may be experiencing less virality, because they are used primarily by brands in their promotional materials. Some Facebook campaigns have even been created around a certain hashtag. On Twitter, hashtags are more prevalent. Everyone – not just brands – uses them. Since we try to avoid promotional material, this could be affecting Facebook’s hashtag statistics.
Another possible explanation is that Twitter is where many people go as a first source of news. When news breaks, hashtags are a quick way to find more information on a specific subject. Facebook is less news-focused and more social. Additionally, Facebook posts are typically longer and many include photos. Users can become distracted by so much information in a single post, and the hashtags may simply go unnoticed. On Twitter, you only have 140 characters.
It’s too early still to spell out a certain death for the Facebook hashtag, but what analysts do know is that the feature isn’t working the way it’s being used right now. Marketers will have to explore new ways to use the hashtag on Facebook if they want it to increase the virality of their posts.
Until a solution is discovered, though, remember this isn’t Twitter. Hashtags won’t make your Facebook posts go viral.