Let’s See if Facebook Hashtags Get More Reach!

Wednesday 30 August • By

Scott Ayres - Social Media Lab

Subscribe to the Social Media Lab Podcast via iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play

Intro

Every business with a Facebook page wants one thing — MORE ENGAGEMENT!

Achieving that has become excruciatingly challenging over the last few years.

Chasing Facebook’s algorithm is the equivalent of a dog chasing its tail. It’s pointless.

(At least watching a dog chase its tail is fun to watch from afar.)

But, what if something as simple as using Facebook hashtags could increase reach and engagement without spending a penny?

If so, I’m in!!

A Bit of Background about Facebook Hashtags

Spend just a few minutes on any social media site and you’ll see posts using hashtags. They started on Twitter and through the years have made their way onto every social media site you can think of.

Hashtags are a great way to throw your content in with other content using the same hashtag.

Think of them as a way to quickly categorize your content so others can search with just a click or tap and then be shown every post using that hashtag.

Facebook introduced hashtags back in 2013 as a way to make conversations more “Public”.

introducing Facebook hashtags

You’ve likely seen your friends or business pages you follow using hashtags, sometimes to help with branding and sometimes just to be ironic or funny #whydidIjustuseahashtag .

According to QuickSprout, when Facebook launched hashtags things didn’t go too well:

facebook hashtags

SocialBakers reported in early 2014 that less hashtags on Facebook resulted in more engagement – which is the exact opposite of what happens on Twitter or Instagram.

number of hashtags on facebook

In late 2015, I asked 13 Facebook experts for their insight on using hashtags on Facebook. Here’s a summary of what they advised:

  • Use hashtags (1 or 2 only) when they make sense and when you use something relevant that people can filter on to find more relevant conversation — Ian Cleary
  • You can’t really go wrong by using them — Mike Gingerich
  • For some reason, Facebook hashtags have no significant impact so far, at least for marketers — Francisco Rosales
  • Hashtags can help your posts be more searchable on Facebook — Zsuzsa Kecsmar
  • If you’re not going to use them correctly, then please stay away — Rosh Khan
  • Hashtags on Facebook have not caught on like they have on other social sites — Andrea Vahl

So many freakin’ contradictions!! It’s obvious no one really knows for sure.

So instead of basing our thoughts on using hashtags on opinions, let’s do some testing!

Hypothesis: Facebook hashtags will NOT have a positive impact on reach or engagement.

Facebook hashtag Hypothesis

Plan of Attack

In order to get measurable data on the impact of hashtags on Facebook, I ran tests on three unique Facebook pages.

  1. Space Walk of Central Texas – This is my own business page with 5161 Likes. It’s over 3 years old and I post to the page a few times per day.
  2. Fans of Bigfoot– This is a page I created about 4 years ago as a passion page about Bigfoot currently sitting at 4022 Likes.
  3. Grace Bible Church – The page has over 790 Likes. I post to the page often, primarily inspirational images and updates/announcements for the church.

I posted 3 photos per day for 3 weeks (63 posts per page) alternating posts with and without hashtags.

Below are a few examples.

sw post with facebook hashtag

facebook hashtag reach

no facebook hashtags

Photos were chosen as they tend to get better reach and engagement than links. Plus with this much content to schedule out for a test, photos were easily accessible and a wide variety could be posted with ease.

During this test, I did not boost any posts.

Again, trying to keep it all organic like a salad from Whole Foods!

Posts with hashtags typically had 5 or fewer hashtags, with some only have 1 to see if that resulted differently. All hashtags were placed in the caption of the photo (the description).

The hashtags were broad in nature, meaning they weren’t locally focused.

  • Fans of Bigfoot was primarily #bigfoot #sasquatch #yeti #findingbigfoot
  • Grace Bible Church was things like #god #jesus #christian #life #bible
  • Space Walk I did throw in local hashtags for towns around me as well as #bouncehouse #spacewalk #usa #kids

What the Data Says Regarding Facebook Hashtags

Did Facebook posts with hashtags perform better than posts without hashtags?

Facebook hashtags had ore Reach

After compiling the data Facebook posts with hashtags had a 4.4% higher reach than posts without a hashtag.

Not at all what I was expecting!!

Added bonus: the engagement on my posts with hashtags was 60.61% higher on average.

To get this data, I went to each Facebook page and then to “Insights” and chose “Posts”:

Facebook insights for post reach

Once here I simply grabbed the reach number of each post used during the 3 week test and added to a spreadsheet.

*Do note that if you do this yourself, make sure to hover over the orange reach bar to get the actual number. (Facebook rounds up the number on the initial view.) For measurable data I grabbed the accurate number.

Based on these Insights, below are the average reach numbers per page for posts with and without hashtags.

Fans of Bigfoot:

  • With Hashtags – reached 1345 (+3.22%)
  • Without Hashtags – reached 1303

Facebook hashtag reach results

Space Walk

  • With Hashtags – reached 1227 (+5.59%)
  • Without Hashtags – reached 1162

Facebook hashtag reach results

Grace Bible Church

  • With Hashtags – reached 277 (+4.92%)
  • Without Hashtags – reached 264

GBC Facebook Reach

To further dive into the data, I removed the highest and lowest performing post for each page in order to remove any anomalies in the results. But, the only page that was affected was the Space Walk page as reach increased by 63 without hashtags. Other pages only saw a change of 1-5 people reached.

The engagement numbers (adding the number of clicks and reactions, comments and shares together) were a bit surprising as posts with hashtags greatly outperformed posts without hashtags on two of the pages.

Fans of Bigfoot had 54.55% more engagement and Grace Bible Church saw 66.67% greater engagement on posts with hashtags.

The Space Walk page did not see a difference in engagement with or without hashtags, the numbers were exactly the same regardless.

Was I Right?

Based on this data my initial hypothesis – “ Facebook hashtags will not have a positive impact on reach or engagement.” – was false.

Posts with hashtags did have a slightly positive impact on reach and had a commanding impact on engagement.

To my complete and utter surprise!

What Now?

Now that this test showed that posts with hashtags got slightly more Reach and engagement I want to leverage that strategy and apply to my pages (and you should to).

But I want to keep a few things in mind as I do this.

  1. Keep them relevant.Don’t attempt to hijack a popular hashtag as that just makes you seem spammy and doesn’t work on Facebook.
  2. Keep them short. On all of my test posts, the maximum number of hashtags I used was 5. While some were posted purely to be ironic or humorous, most were posted to be in line with the subject matter. But no more than 5. Too many and your post gets cluttered.
  3. Don’t depend on them for greater reach.  Just posting a hashtag on a post isn’t going to magically get you more reach. Continue to post great content that your audience wants to engage with.
  4. Mix it up. Post a good mix of posts with and without hashtags so they stand out more.

Hopefully this study and the tips help you make better decisions regarding your Facebook posting strategy.

I know for me I’ll be posting hashtags more often to my Facebook pages in hopes of getting more of that magical Reach!

ec43e6d93e1e503a38c263b46fdb7ca9222222222222