Have you ever wondered why people started using hashtags on Twitter? Today, it’s not unheard of for a group of people, who are all tweeting about the same event, to use three or more hashtags to describe it. We may have reached #hashtag #overload.
Eight years ago, that wasn’t so. The very first person to suggest that people who are all tweeting about the same thing use a # (pound) was Chris Messina. His very influential tweet was posted on August 23, 2007.
Who is Chris Messina? His bio says: “I invented the hashtag, advocated for many open source and open web projects, and co-founded BarCamp and coworking communities. I previously worked at Google in developer relations as a UX designer.”
It’s pretty amazing to see how far his suggestion to use what was then refereed to as a pound symbol has gone. Why did he choose the pound symbol, instead of some other one?
In another of his tweets, Chris Messina notes that Twitter (the company, not the users) resisted using hashtags in the beginning. He points out that hashtags were not intended to be Twitter-only. Today, we see them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.
Facebook added hashtags as a new feature a little more than a month ago. How is that working out for them? Not quite as well as they hoped it would. Somehow, this does not surprise me.
It seems that the idea was that adding hashtags would allow Facebook users to add some context to their posts. It would also allow other users to “discover content” by searching for a particular hashtag. Facebook was hoping that people would choose to post things like “I love #Starbucks”. The point was to encourage people to engage more with the brands that advertise on and through Facebook.
What happened? Part of the problem is that many of the brands on Facebook aren’t good at using hashtags across social media platforms. In other words, they might have used a particular hashtag on Facebook, and a different one on Twitter. Or, they use hashtags on Twitter, but don’t use them in Facebook. It is a lack of cohesiveness.
I think another problem is that people who are on Facebook don’t necessarily think to add a hashtag to their posts. If they don’t use Twitter, they may not have a context for using a hashtag in the first place. Also, just because Facebook adds the ability to use a hashtag doesn’t automatically mean people are going to use it to emphasize a brand that they like. They could be posting things like #Friday instead.
Simply Measured put together a lot of data about the effectiveness of the brands on Facebook. The top 10 most engaging brands average 19.9 million fans. Those brands post something 2.5 times per day. The top three most liked brands are: Facebook, Coca-Cola, and MTV. However, the group that has the most engagement with fans on Facebook is the automotive industry.
The study also found that brands that do not allow Facebook users to post onto the brand’s timeline end up with a 15% dip in engagement. The brand may be trying to avoid negative posts. The result is people stop engaging completely. Those brands probably need to improve their use of hashtags.