Facebook Hashtags: Small Change, Big Possibility

September 3, 2013

A part of our SparkNotes blog series on social media.


For the social media folks out there—from newbies to experts—Facebook has made a change recently that could mean big adjustments to your social media marketing. In efforts to compete with Twitter and catch on to the biggest social media trend, Facebook has now activated hashtags.

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a linked search term created when one puts a pound sign (#) in front of a word. Doing that automatically creates a link and an on-the-fly search term and category. Clicking on a hashtag will bring up any other posts using that hashtag. Creating and using hashtags takes no extra steps, just type one out and it will immediately link to other posts using that hashtag as soon as you hit publish, if others are using it. If you're the first to use that particular hashtag, it will start a feed for others to tap into.

Originally created for and used on Twitter, in recent years, hashtags have made their way into other social media platforms like the photo-sharing app Instagram and Facebook posts. They've also made their way into popular culture.

People use hashtags for a number of different reasons. They can add a humorous or sarcastic spin on a post  (for example: This new Justin Timberlake album is amazing! What a genius! #marrymeJT), or help categorize information so you can quickly see all public posts about the topics you care about, whether it be #catvideos or #publichealth.

For organizations, they provide an easy and experimental strategy for reaching audiences via social media who are interested in a certain topic by using relevant hashtags to join an online conversation.

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What does this mean for Facebook?

Having hashtags on Facebook means that, just like Twitter, your public Facebook posts—including photos and videos—can be categorized and grouped with other Facebook posts using that same hashtag. 

It also means that if you used hashtags in the past in your posts, those will activate as links as well. So, to clean up your Facebook presence, it's worth going back to read your old posts from the several months to be sure they are categorized in a way that fits your organization or group's mission.

Hashtags are also active on mobile.

How can I use it for my organization or group?

Live hashtags on Facebook open up big marketing strategy potential. Just like on Twitter, using hashtags on Facebook will categorize your posts.

Since it's still early, it's hard to say how much or how often people browse a certain hashtag on Facebook. But if hashtags take off the way they did on Twitter, it will be a good way to get more eyes on your posts as well as to track where your posts are landing in hashtag feeds, which may be useful in tracking your reach and the topics that your audiences are interested in. How? If you've created a hashtag for a campaign, you can click on your linked hashtag to see who is using your hashtag, and alongside what other topics.

Fear not: the advent of Facebook hashtags doesn't necessitate that you revamp your whole marketing or communications strategy. Instead, keep an eye on (and experiment with) some of the creative uses of this new feature that are already emerging. Some ideas:

  • Are you using hashtags on Twitter for your campaigns, products and events? Start using them on Facebook and encourage others to do the same to strengthen your brand and create buzz. For example, I've seen a creative personal use of this new feature for big events like weddings: giving guests a hashtag with which they can tag pictures to be congregated into one space for guests and friends to browse.
  • Want to be a part of a relevant conversation about a topic your organization works on? Do some quick research to see what conversations are happening, and join in with an engaging question, photo or link.
  • For easy research, each hashtag on Facebook has its own unique URL with a status update box at the top. Use that box to research what kind of conversations you want to join, and you can drive traffic to that URL from other sites to encourage conversation.

#Hashtag Best Practices

For Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram or any other platform picking up the trend

  • Limit your posts to two hashtags maximum.  While hashtags create reach, they also make posts less readable.
  • Try not to combine too many words or characters into a hashtag, #becauseitgetsreallyhardtoread. If you need to make it a few words, #CapitalizeEachWord to smooth it out for your readers.
  • Don't be a slave to any trends; be strategic about your use of hashtags. Avoid creating or using one for a campaign just because it's the cool thing to do. Instead, analyze your past statistics and audience and confirm that a hashtag will spark interest in your readers, not deter them. Every audience is different. If you do decide to  #hash it out, try to go with one that's relevant and already in use rather than creating your own anew each time.

Your turn: What do you think about hashtags on Facebook? How will you use this new Facebook feature in your work? What are your questions, concerns or reactions to this new trend? Tell us in the Comments section below.



Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Associate at SparkAction. Email her at alison[at]sparkaction.org.



Find other social media tips and tricks in our SparkNotes series.

Alison Beth Waldman