Facebook was quite late with the hashtag feature and there were a lot of discussions about this introduction. Many sources predicted that this feature would be a failure due to the network mechanism differences of Facebook and other services like Twitter. Facebook focuses on personal connectivity and hashtags are usually used for discovery. First studies even suggested, that hashtags may harm your Facebook fans reach and interactions.
Just recently we analyzed the hashtag usage by Facebook pages of predefined categories and found out that it totally differs depending on the type and industry of the page.
But despite all these studies, negative signs and expectations, hashtags are used on Facebook until today. The question arises how the Facebook hashtag adoption looks like and how it has developed since its introduction back in June 2013.
The Share Of Facebook Posts With Hashtags
In order to make a precise statement, we dug deep into our databases and created a sample set of nearly 70,000 Facebook pages and over 38 million related posts with a time frame from the 1st of January 2013 to the 31st of December 2013. In case you are wondering why we didn’t start only after the official feature release of Facebook back in June 2013; we also wanted to discover if hashtags were already utilized by pages before that date.
To make it as easy as possible, we calculated the share of posts that include one or more hashtags (in regard to the overall number of posts published in the same time period). Obviously, since the official release of this feature, the adoption has increased a lot. Before the feature release the average usage of hashtags in Facebook posts was 4.03%. After the official hashtag launch the average share of posts with hashtags grew to 14.4%.
This looks like a low-level adoption in comparison with tweets and Google+ posts. The visible decline at the end of the year relates to the normal effects of Christmas and the end of the year. It is interesting to see that after September there was no further increase in the usage of hashtags and it seems that the share of posts with hashtags is now stagnating at 16%.
Average Facebook Hashtags Per Posts With Hashtags
The next angle we took a look at is the number of hashtags used on average in a post (in case at least one hashtag was used).
This analysis shows that until about May an average of 1.5 hashtags were used per post. After the official release the hashtag usage then rose to an average of nearly 2.5 hashtags per post. With a delay of around one month after the Facebook feature release the hashtag usage reaches its highest point with an average value of nearly 3 hashtags per post between July and August 2013. After this it normalized to an average of around 1.9 hashtags per post until December. The small drop off at the end of the year could also be related to seasonal effects and a lower overall volume of Facebook posts.
Google Trends Hashtags Search / Network specific
Before I get to my assessment of this research I gave Google Trends a whirl to find some answers in the worldwide search behavior on hashtag interest for particular social networks.
While the search interest in the hashtag topic within the Twitter context was steadily rising since 2009, there were also already first searches about Facebook Hashtag in 2010. The searches for YouTube and Google Plus Hashtag are very slight and Instagram Hashtag related queries are growing fast since 2012. Of course, when Facebook officially announced the support of hashtags, the searches skyrocketed to an all time high, but in total it was still a lot lower than the search volume of Twitter and Instagram.
Are Facebook Hashtags A Disappointment?
All charts and analyses are revealing that Facebook hashtags are only of low general interest and that they have been hardly used until today. It seems that Facebook has not found the right levers yet to make them a real success. I think hashtags are a great way to discover topics of interest and to filter the noise. While on Twitter and also Google+ hashtags are working well for me, Facebook currently isn’t representing me real incentives to behave in the same way.
What do you think, will Facebook improve the value of hashtags by promoting and integrating it into existing functionalities? For example, it could copy the process we all know from Google Plus posts where a contextual fitting hashtag is automatically added. Also the recently revealed feature of Facebook trending topics could be a step in this direction. On the other hand, one can also wonder whether Facebook will quietly remove this feature during this year.