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January 17, 2020

Are Hashtags Killing Your Social Media Reach?

By Hannah Stonehouse Hudson

I see it time and time again. People come to my seminars frustrated with their lack of reach on Facebook, muttering, “Facebook is dead.” Then I take a quick look at their Facebook business page—and 99 percent of the time I see a bunch of posts with hashtag-something-random or a branded hashtag or something similar. We have a talk, and then their Facebook reach suddenly improves as soon as they change one small thing: They stop using hashtags in every one of their Facebook business page posts.

You have good intentions and believe that by using a hashtag strategy on Facebook you are reaching more people on page posts. In actuality, you are reaching fewer people. Small businesses work hard to reach people on Facebook through their business pages (and that’s important because Facebook treats business pages—what posts are seen, who see them—differently than personal pages), and many spend hours putting together a plan they think will get them the most views. But these business owners far too often use hashtags in their business page posts, mostly because they see other business pages doing it and so assume a hashtag in every post is a best practice for increased social media reach.

Don’t Be a Copycat

That could not be further from the truth.

The best practices and strategies for a business page you admire (or what some would deem as being “successful” business pages) are not your best practices. In fact, the worst thing you can do for your social media strategy is to copy another account’s posting methods.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Their audience is not your audience, and their fans will react differently than your fans to certain types of posts. Facebook, like all social media platforms, feeds the kinds of posts your fan base reacts to the most. If your page’s fans respond better to text posts than to video posts, but you’re posting mostly videos because that’s what you see other pages doing, then you are automatically reaching fewer people.
  2. You don’t know what that other page’s analytics are. Are those posts genuinely effective? Are they testing something new in the background?

Minimal, Purposeful #Hashtags Win the Day

There are exceptions to every rule, and a tiny percentage of pages will not suffer decreased reach when they use a hashtag, but the overall data shows that hashtag use on a Facebook business page will result in decreased reach.

Why does Facebook do this? The answer is that Facebook reduces organic reach for anything that screams “Pay attention to me, I’m trying to get more people to see this!” not just hashtags. If the Facebook algorithm picks up that you are trying to reach more people or make money off a post (including using words like “sale” or “free offer”), it immediately reduces your reach—and it does that because when it quashes your reach, you’ll then pay Facebook to boost the post.

That said, your overall social media marketing plan will include hashtag use, but that use needs a strategy and that strategy must clarify when and when not to use hashtags, as well as who should use them.

When should you use hashtags on Facebook? A best-use practice is for when your No.1 concern is not about how many people see your post but identifying an event you are involved in or a sponsorship obligation. For instance, if you are part of a chamber of commerce or a tourism bureau event where you wanted to show your support or involvement, you would use a hashtag. Too, if you are offering a deal on a product and that product’s manufacturer specifically asks you to use a hashtag on a post involving them, you should, but only if that post specifically addresses their service or product.

Who should be using your hashtags in their posts related to you and your company? Your field staff and customers should be using them, but sparingly. Do not insist they use them in every post they put out, rather have them use hashtags in posts that specifically relate to you and your product or service, e.g., general, everyday posts about their personal lives, even those that have your product photo in it, are not a good place to waste a hashtag.

Asking your customers to use your hashtags in their personal posts is another sound strategy. Those personal profiles are not affected by using hashtags and your customers using your hashtags brings awareness to your business and brand. You can also put your hashtag on your business cards, your website, and other marketing materials.

There you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly of hashtags. Use them sparingly, use them wisely and you’ll have better results. In the next article, I’ll address more ways you’re accidentally decreasing your organic social media reach, and I’ll provide some surprising solutions to mitigate them while increasing your long-term reach.

About the Author
Hannah Stonehouse Hudson is a keynote speaker, coach and social media communications strategist. As the owner of HSH Communications, she helps people and organizations reach the most people on social media, and she is the instructor of the popular online course How to Get the MOST Eyes on Your Social Media Content.

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