Sep 26, 2013

Hashtags are #lame … on Facebook

 

On Twitter, the hashtag #rocks.  On Facebook, not so much.   In fact,   using hashtags is having a negative effect on the visibility of posts on Facebook according to a new study from EdgeRank Checker  (“Hashtags on Facebook Do Nothing to Help Additional Exposure.”)

The function of the hashtag on each social network is broadly similar – one can click on a hashtag to pull up other tweets and posts carrying the same marker.  However, the application of the hashtag differs between the two, which starts to explain why denizens of social networks embrace hashtags on Twitter, but deride them on Facebook.

Same hashtag, different results

On Twitter, generally speaking, hashtags are used as a way to categorize content, functioning almost as an old-school tag.  They provide taxonomy for tweets.  Example:  A search of #cloud pulls up tweets that (for the most part) are about cloud computing.

cloud tweets

Tweets carrying the #cloud hashtag are about cloud computing.

On Facebook – a much larger social network, where posts can be considerably longer than 140 characters, use of hashtags is much more freewheeling.  This probably has to do with the fact that Twitter users are used to using hashtags in a more disciplined way, for the purpose of organizing content, and is aware of the collective ‘whole’ a hashtag creates.  On Facebook, where hashtags are new, many use a hashtag to simply denote emotion or deliver an aside. Searching the same hashtag #cloud on Facebook generates entirely different results.

The #cloud hashtag on Facebook yields a mix of results.

The #cloud hashtag on Facebook yields a mix of results.

Understanding & respecting the differences between social networks

The networks are different, and people use them differently.    Communicators should respect those differences and plan their content accordingly.  Lumping them together is a recipe for wasting time, energy and resource – and diminishing your organizations’ stature in the eyes of your audience.    A savvy move on one network can open your brand to ridicule on another.

A response the EdgerankChecker study elicited from Facebook shed a little more light on hashtags in posts, and the fact that they don’t appear to be helping visibility, insinuating that the use of the hashtags hadn’t been terribly rigorous.

“Pages should not expect to get increased distribution simply by sticking irrelevant hashtags in their posts. The best thing for Pages (that want increased distribution) to do is focus on posting relevant, high quality-content – hashtags or not. Quality, not hashtags, is what our News Feed algorithms look for so that Pages can increase their reach. “(Via The Next Web)

3 ways to guard against being lame on social media 

First, understand nuances between Facebook, Twitter and any other social network your brand uses.  Look to your own behavior. For example – chances are pretty good that you’re active on both Facebook and Twitter.  Do you use the two networks interchangeably?  Probably not.  You’re probably connected to different people, and you use the two networks to share and consume different kinds of information.   In your professional PR or marketing capacity, it’s wise to let some of your personal experiences guide your approach to using social media.

In addition to developing your own savvy on different social networks, there are several other tactics you can employ to help ensure your brand against lameness  in social media, and even more importantly, glean real benefit for your organization across the social sphere, including:

  • Observe conversations.  What topics generate the most interaction?   What topics are being ignored?  As you study the top(ic)ography of your audiences’ online conversations, take note of which topics could be used as a context for brand messaging.
  • Observe content formats.  What kind of content gains the most traction on each network?  Pictures, video? Infographics?   Multimedia content draws and holds audience attention.  Understanding what kinds of content your audience most appreciates will help you create a more effective content strategy.
  • Study popular messages. What kinds of messages are most widely shared?  Tips? Humor? Advice?  This is particularly important, since amplification of messages is a primary benefit social media offers brands.

In retrospect, the advice offered by Facebook is really good guidance.  Don’t use hashtags (or any other mechanism) as an artificial means to garner attention for a message.  Relevance and utility are the foundations of successful digital and social messaging.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the newly-published ebooks  New School Press Release Tactics and Driving Content Discovery. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.

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