Hashtags (the hash symbol – #) first appeared in 1970, and was originally used in computer languages to denote groups and labels. And while the hashtag has taken on a life of its own after crossing over to pop culture, it still retains the core of its initial intentions of grouping and categorizing. Except in this open, social media world, those categories are exponential.
While hashtags have a place for personal use, and have been used effectively for marketing and content campaigns, the effectiveness of its use has come under recent question. Regardless, the list of platforms that enable hashtags include the following: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+, Kickstarter, YouTube, Vine, and many more. Of course, marketing campaigns use hashtags for the general purpose of helping people find their product, but ultimately, your campaign’s use of hashtags must lead to people finding you. There’s many resources tracking which hashtags are the most popular in your area.
The effectiveness of hashtags varies in different platforms. For example, Facebook implemented hashtags in the summer of 2013. A study released several months later concluded that “posts with hashtags have less Viral Reach than posts without hashtags”. Ouch!
The key is to remember that hashtags are only as dynamic as their social network platform allows. The likelihood of getting retweeted doubles when using hashtags on Twitter, and brands were 70% more likely to get retweeted when using one hashtag compared to not using one (60% of tweets used a single hashtag). And part of the reason why hashtags on Twitter (and Instagram) are more effective is the culture behind them. Twitter has “Follow Fridays” (#ff) for account recommendations. Instagram has “Throwback Thursdays” (#tbt) used to present pictures of the past. What does larger theme does Facebook have to unite its larger community?
Hashtags on Instagram and Pinterest
Instagram has 150 million users; 16 billion photos are uploaded every day, with 1 billion likes changing hands. Needless to say, there’s a strong community of active users. In general, photos with hashtags had a much higher like to follower ratio than those without. And as discussed above, there’s a series of widely used hashtags on Instagram. A study found that the most effective number of hashtags for Instagram are 2, 5, and 9. But Instagram is also unique in that filters also influence the amount of likes for content, with Mayfair by far the most effective.
Pinterest hashtags are effective if used properly. First, hashtags on Pinterest only work in an item’s description. And sure, you could throw out traditional hashtags, but Pinterest is especially suited towards creating unique hashtags, more so than other platforms. This is because Pinterest searches don’t support hashtags, so if you do a search for “Cats”, then all pictures with descriptions of cats will appear, regardless of a hashtag.
We return to the original question – are hashtags here to stay, or a trend? The answer depends on the social media network. They are effective on visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. They are useful for Twitter. And may damage the viral-ness of your Facebook posts.