Facebook: Leave your hashtags at the door

Facebook: Leave your hashtags at the door

Written by Dallas McLaughlin

Published: December 9, 2013

This weekend, I made a late night tongue-in-cheek post on my personal Facebook profile. The original post was really irrelevant to where the conversation went in the comments.


If you expand the comments you’ll see a longtime friend of mine, Chloe Bowman, posted “#hashtagsarestupid”. Of course, I pointed out that hashtags are killing it (in a good way) on Twitter and Instagram, even on G+, but they are in fact hurting Facebook organic and viral reach.
If you continue down the comments you see the comments obviously in favor of hashtags. Pointing out the simplest explanation of allowing others to discover your content, join a conversation, blah, blah, blah.
When I say “blah, blah, blah”, don’t get me wrong. They are absolutely 100% correct. I use the hell out of hashtags, but I do it correctly. (obviously not in the embedded Facebook post. That was the joke…)
See, the problem with hashtags on Facebook is not that they’re new, and weird, and Hashtag Facebook Organic Reachpeople aren’t actually “discovering” anything through them. It’s that they’re actually hurting, and reducing the amount of news feeds that your posts show in. That’s a big deal, folks. Maybe not a big deal for your personal profile, but that’s a big fuckin’ deal for businesses.
When Facebook introduced hashtags the consensus was that all of a sudden the reach of our posts would go way up. All of a sudden we’d have this whole discovery mechanism to virally reach all of these new people. But that just isn’t the case. Look at the image attached to the right (and up). Not only are we not reach more people, like I said before, you’re reaching less people if you include a hashtag in your post.
So why do I think this happening? On a psychological level Facebook has introduced the world to online privacy – the positives and the negatives. Our profiles and future interactions are tied to years worth of our photos, statuses, interactions, likes, etc. On Twitter they are not. On Twitter you can assume any identity you want. In my opinion, Facebook has a claim as a our “real online identity”. Facebook even walks us through a tutorial on privacy settings and (tries to) train us to be careful.

On the other hand, Twitter is like running through a burning building screaming whatever you want. It’s incredibly more difficult to discover and engage in real conversation Twitter. You even start with 0 followers, which makes for a lonely place.

Facebook is a modern day diary of someones life, where Twitter is a thought stream, or in that context, Post-It Notes.

Rapid fire conversations on a platform like Twitter require a giant flag that says “Hey! I’m talking about what you’re talking about! Let’s talk about it together, even if we’re strangers!” On Facebook, you don’t need to “discover” strangers to engage with, because you start with a built in audience of real life acquaintances. In fact, I would say a large number of people posting on Facebook do not want the engagement of “strangers”, or even “Friends of friends”.

As far as placement and use of the hashtag itself, I believe the end-user (you, me, us) are using it incorrectly within the context of the Facebook platform. While Twitter has it’s own culture on how to use a hashtag, Facebook has no centralized and accepted “Terms of use”. Remember when everyone was using hashtags on Facebook before the functionality even existed? Unfortunately, that culture engrained itself into the DNA of the average Facebook user.

Where hashtags on Twitter are being used to replace words, and (almost) work grammatically within a sentence to convey a point or message, on Facebook they are simply piled on at the end and most often created uniquely by that user rather than the user identifying a trend or conversation they want to be a part of. It’s almost as if Facebook is using hashtags to convey emotion (ie: #pissed#facepalm) Which in that sense, would connect with you other people who are pissed or have their face in their palms. Do you want to converse and engage with these people?

I believe in time Facebook will adjust the metrics and calculations on their EdgeRank Algorithm so hashtags don’t hurt the reach of a post. But will the culture of Facebook users shift to using them “correctly” – probably not.

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- Dallas McLaughlin