Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Let's talk hashtags.
It's been ten years since that sexy and sometimes mysterious tic-tac-toe symbol first appeared on social media. Many know that #s are a feature on Instagram and Twitter, but you can also put them to use as a useful search tool on Facebook and LinkedIn.
But basic word search has been around forever--so why do we need hashtags? When is it best to use them? And most importantly, are they a helpful marketing technique or just a good parlor trick? I did researched keyword usage on several platforms to get an overview of what's happening.
To hashtag or not to hashtag?
I tested search results using a keyword and a hashtag plus the keyword on five of the most popular platforms on the the Internet. I'm a lifetime Rotarian, so I chose "Rotary" as the keyword for this experiment. The most important things I learned are in bold and in the conclusion section at the end of this article.
Facebook A search for “#rotary” returned a stream of 31,000 posts from people who typed "#Rotary" in their Facebook message. (Capital letters don't seem to matter when it comes to using hashtags.) The search results weren't very useful as these posts don't seem to be listed in order of popularity or recency.
A search on the word "Rotary" seemed to bamboozle FB, which displayed a page that read, "This Page Isn't Available Right Now." We'll need to check on this again later when Facebook gets its search function working again.
A search of "#rotary" returned 1,870,480 posts that contain that exact character string. But thousands of those results have to do with "rotary" in the automotive realm so this search wasn't particularly helpful.
A query of the word "Rotary" doesn't return any posts, but rather displays a long list of IG accounts that contain the word "Rotary."
Searching "#rotary" on LI returned 24,519 results. Some of the posts contained "#Rotary" and some just the word "Rotary." Some of the results were ads. It's not clear if the advertisements are counted in the search results.
A search of the word "Rotary" got 548, 156 results, which were LinkedIn account holders that use the word Rotary in their title or profile info.
A query on "#rotary" returned a never-ending stream of results and all of the posts (except the promoted Tweets) used the "#rotary" string. A large percentage of these Tweets containing "#Rotary" had no Likes, Comments or ReTweets, which leads me to think that the # search process hasn't done much for the people who posted in terms of getting the word out.
A search on "Rotary" showed another long collection of results. Interestingly, few if any of these posts actually contained "#Rotary," which means that if you want to get found in a search, you need to use both "Rotary" and "#Rotary" when posting.
A search of "#Rotary" did not show the total number of videos, making it difficult to analyze results. The posts were a mix of videos that showed "#Rotary" and "Rotary." Some of these videos, including an interview with Bill Gates, didn't display either. This might mean that the account owner used a transcription of the interview in the SEO process. It's worth noting that none of the top five videos in the search displayed "#Rotary," since that was the search criteria.
A "Rotary" search showed a similar, but different result. No total result numbers. Many of these videos were far short of the 500 characters allowed in the description, a recommended SEO technique for YouTubers.
While in the searching mode, I also tested the search results for both "#Rotary" and "Rotary" in Chrome:
"#Rotary" yielded 276,000,000 results, a wide-ranging mix of websites, Tweets, Facebook pages and news stories.
"Rotary" yielded 287,000,000 results, almost the same number as a search using the hashtag.
A study by sproutsocial.com claims that an Instagram post that employs a single hashtag attracts 12.6% more engagement than a hashtag-free version of the same post.
But choose your keywords carefully. Word combinations (long-tail keywords) often work better than common words and too many hashtags can make spam filters and SEO engines jittery. Experts recommend not using more than seven hashtags in a single post.
Use important keywords in the title, sans hashtags. Use the # plus the keyword in the description, so you're covered both ways.
Also, hitch your wagon to bigger wagons. Use hashtags that other people are using so your marketing can take advantage of trends and other likable content.
Are you getting results using hashtags? Feel free to weigh in with a comment if you’ve got good info to share.
Finally, if you're a Rotarian or interested in ongoing marketing strategies, join my Get the Word Out Now! group on Facebook.