Are you #tagging your business’s posts on Facebook and clicking #hashtags the way you do (or are supposed to do) on Twitter? No? Neither is anyone else, it seems. The nascent feature, which rolled out in June, was marketed as a great way to give marketers more power over their messaging, as well as give users another way to search for content they’re interested in. You know, just like Twitter.
Despite their massive popularity on Twitter, hashtags on Facebook have yet to take hold in any meaningful way. Simply Measured, which analyzes social media companies and measures online marketer performance, says that as of the end of June, companies had adopted hashtags on their posts, with 20 percent of all business posts containing them. That seems extremely high based on a cursory spin I took today through some big brand’s Facebook pages, but either way, their impact appears muted, to say the least. “So far, brand posts containing hashtags are not driving additional engagement,” says the report, “but are performing at the same level as posts without hashtags, suggesting that people are not yet discovering brand posts by their tags.”
Per the same study, what is performing well is Facebook’s tried and true: Photos account for 74 percent of brand posts on the social network, and in the aggregate they command 95 percent of total engagement. (Also, for the record, once your status update’s character length exceeds 99 characters, engagement begins to drop off considerably. In general, the longer the update, the worse it performs.)
Why aren’t hashtags performing on Facebook the way they do on Twitter? (Twitter posts with hashtags are roughly twice as likely to be retweeted as tweets without them.)
For starters, the implementation on Facebook appears to be woefully incomplete. Hashtags on Facebook are always clickable on the first post, but in comments, hashtags don’t always seem to work. And once you do get to a hashtag’s dedicated page, those pages (which are not standalone pages but rather pop-ups overlaying the page you clicked from) tend to load slowly and aren’t in any semblance of chronological order, making their use in following more topical, newsworthy issues limited.
The bigger issue, however, is that hashtags just aren’t well-integrated into the Facebook experience. Visit Twitter and hashtags hit you from the start, right there in the “Trends” box where you can’t avoid them. Facebook’s hashtags are buried like the afterthought that they are, with no way to find trending topics. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that most people didn’t realize hashtags even worked on Facebook.
Meanwhile, don’t expect much to change in the foreseeable future. All eyes focused on Facebook are now waiting to see what will happen with the long-anticipated auto-playing video advertisement system that the company has been rumored to have had in development for months. Those rumors have hit a fever pitch in the last few days as the company reportedly firms up plans to sell “roadblock” ads for a reported maximum price of $2.5 million per day. Unlike hashtags, you won’t have any trouble finding these monstrosities: If the rumors are correct, they’re designed to be #unskippable.
Christopher Null is a veteran technology and business journalist. He contributes regularly to TechHive, PCWorld, and Wired, and operates the websites Drinkhacker and Film Racket. Disclosure: He also writes for Hewlett-Packad's marketing website TechBeacon.