Hashtags are a key part of the Twitter experience as they allow users to link together otherwise disparate tweets, thereby creating conversations and streams of information around particular themes or events.

Unfortunately they have become an overused medium and are frequently used as ironic punch lines in dreadfully unfunny tweets.

In fact someone put it quite aptly when describing hashtags as the digital version of the ‘not’ joke.

And yet hashtags still have a practical use on Twitter and are an excellent marketing tool, so it came as little surprise when Facebook also enabled a similar feature a few months ago.

So considering the fact that hashtags have proven to be such an excellent tool for search and conversation on Twitter, it’s a shame that they’ve proven to be so useless on Facebook.

When I began this post the idea was to look at ways in which marketers can make best use of Facebook hashtags, but after several hours of investigation I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re not worth bothering with.

I’ve back up my conclusions by comparing Facebook hashtags to their Twitter counterparts, and while I appreciate that the platforms are used for slightly different purposes it’s still a useful benchmark.

Here are my musings…

They don’t always work

This is anecdotal evidence, but when searching various brand pages for hashtags I was surprised to note that a sizeable proportion of them didn’t register properly.

By this I mean that the hashtags just showed up as normal text and weren’t clickable.

This could be down to the way that they were written, but even so it happens often enough for it to be something that Facebook should try to fix.

Examples of hashtag fails

They don’t improve engagement

A study included in our rather excellent Facebook Marketing Trends Briefing shows that hashtags don’t improve the reach of posts, in fact they have the absolute opposite impact. 

The study by EdgeRank Checker found that the median reach of posts without a hashtag is 1.3% compared to 0.8% for those that include a hashtag.

It’s unclear why this is happening (maybe it’s not just me that thinks Facebook hashtags are stupid?) but it should be a concern for Facebook bearing in mind that hashtags are supposed to encourage conversation.

It appears that nobody uses them

One would assume that a search for #1d would yield a huge number of results as, love them or loathe them, One Direction are one of the most talked about bands in the world.

However my search returned a measly nine results. Just nine.

By way of comparison, when I ran the same hashtag through Topsy it found that #1d had been used 5,200 times in the past 24 hours on Twitter and 46,000 times in the past seven days.

The same is true when searching #England, which is commonly used when tweeting about the national football team. In the week leading up to Tuesday afternoon it had been used 72,000 times due to the fact that England had to play an important World Cup qualifier.

The same search on Facebook revealed a mere 32 updates, the oldest of which was posted eight days ago.

It could be that Facebook has a particularly strong filter system, or it could be that nobody uses hashtags. Either way, it’s hardly an incentive to continue using them.

Search results are terrible

Aside from the fact that there are so few search results, there don’t appear to be any filter options to help find results that might actually be relevant to you.

On Twitter you can filter the results on:

  • Top results.
  • People you follow.
  • User accounts (People).
  • Photos.

Even this seems like a fairly limited amount of options now I think of it, but it still far outstrips Facebook’s search tool.

Further to this, Twitter’s search results update in real time, another feature that’s sorely lacking from Facebook.