If you’re a social media user, chances are you’ll know hashtags are being used increasingly in posts across your timelines, whether you’re on Facebook or Twitter; Google+ or Instagram.

For both businesses and personal accounts, the use of hashtags seems to have exploded in recent times, something that’s likely to have been directly impacted upon by the popularity of the network on which they were first used – Twitter. In 2007, for example, 5,000 tweets per day were being made. Just two years later in 2009, we were seeing 2.5 million daily tweets, which increased to 100 million by 2011 – and an astonishing 500 million by 2013.

But no matter how popular hashtags may have become, there’s one question that business users ask – do they actually work? And if they do, what are the benefits of using them?

By embracing the use of the hashtag, the social media networks have created a simple, effective means of connecting users with discussion topics and each other. As a user you can join in a discussion and get yourself noticed, which itself can be a really helpful tool for businesses.

Since taking up the role of Leighton’s Digital Marketing Executive last year, I’ve been adding hashtags into Leighton’s posts across our various social media platforms, knowing that they would likely increase the reach of each post, the number of impressions and engagement. Like a lot of people though, I recognise the power of the full range of web analytics available now and rather than automatically assuming that using hashtags would increase the reach of our posts, I wanted to know for sure. I wanted to better understand if, when and how the hashtags that Leighton were using on social media were adding any value to our posts. It was time to get scientific.

Back To Basics

I thought the best way to understand how hashtags chris-messina-first-twitter-hashtagwork and their influence on posts was to firstly discover how they came around and where they started from.

Way back in 2007, the first hashtag was used by the ‘Godfather of the Hashtag’, Chris Messina on Twitter. The image on the right shows the Tweet which the hashtag was used in. He wanted to use the hash sign to gather discussions and online exchanges regarding Barcamp, a worldwide technology conference. It took Twitter two years before they realised how popular hashtags were and formally adopt them into their code, meaning that hashtags were automatically identified and turned into the clickable links that we see today. Since then, hashtags have developed in popularity and have been integrated on Facebook, Pinterest, Google +, and Instagram.

The Stats

When researching statistics about the effects of hashtags on posts, I came across many examples of how using them can be beneficial to posts, increasing things such as number of impressions, post reach, links clicked etc. One of the pieces of information that I came across was the following statistics from the Buffer Social blog:

Buffer Blog - Hashtag StatsAccording to their research, whilst only 24% of tweets they measured contained hashtags, they found that there was what you could call a hashtag sweet spot. Using 1 or 2 hashtags proved to generate a healthy 21% more engagement than if you added 3 or more. This goes some way to proving that using too many hashtags can actually decrease your chances of engagement. With Twitter having only a small character limit of 140, users need to find the balance between hashtags and text.

Leighton Comparison

To gain an insight into how Leighton have already used hashtags on posts and make a comparison with posts that do not contain hashtags, I decided to use the excellent tools available within Twitter Analytics to gather my information.

For the following examples, I used Twitter Analytics to gain data about our recent position at Leighton and how both tweets performed on our Leighton Twitter account. I chose two tweets that were both advertising our Test Analyst position on the Leighton site, one containing two hashtags and one without any.

No Hashtags Vs. Hashtags – The Results

Test analyst comparision edit

Twitter Analytics enables you to find a whole range of stats about every single post. In comparison to the post without hashtags, analytics showed that the post using two hashtags had achieved:

  • A 25% increase in overall impressions
  • A 60% increase in Retweets
  • A 75% click through rate on the link embedded in the post

The Conclusion

So, hashtags – do they really work? The short answer is yes!

But why? Well, for a start – when Twitter adopted hashtags into clickable links, they enabled them to be searched and discovered, which naturally resulted in increased reach potential for every single tweet containing them. When put into practice with the Leighton account, this prove to be the case. Upon comparing data of a number of Leighton’s tweets, I found that the vast majority of results showed that hashtags increased engagement.

Hashtags are a really handy tool to use, and many many businesses agree – as a quick flick through your twitter feed will surely testify. Through my research, I came across three key benefits to using hashtags: increasing your followers, encouraging engagement and improving brand visibility. What social business wouldn’t want to achieve that?