Hashtags can play an important role in increasing the organic reach of your posts, but in order to maximize them, you need to know the best practices - i.e. where you should use hashtags and how many you should include. And as with all things social, those optimal strategies keep changing - there was little point using hashtags on LinkedIn, for example, till two months ago, when the platform enabled hashtag functionality within the mobile app.
To help with this, TrackMaven recently analyzed over 65,000 posts across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to determine the current optimal number of hashtags, and the best hashtag length, to improve post performance on each platform. And their results show that hashtag use may be shifting - here's what they found.
The commonly stated best practice for hashtags on Twitter has been two, with research showing that engagement drops significantly once any more than two hashtags are used, on average.
TrackMaven's data differs from this, with their research showing that tweets with only one hashtag generated the most engagement, averaging 90 interactions per post.
Their results are actually somewhat similar to those aforementioned studies, with a sharp drop in engagement for tweets using any more than two tags, but optimal engagement was generated from tweets with just the one included.
This could reflect a change in attitude towards hashtag use. Over time, hashtags have become an easy way for spammers to hijack popular conversations - a recent report found that a huge amount of traffic generated by hashtags is actually fuelled by bots. As such, it's possible that users have become more wary about hashtags, and are thus less inclined to use them as a discovery tool - if you knew that the hashtag #socialmedia was consistently filled with junk results, for example, you might be less inclined to check it out, which would reduce the reach potential of that tag.
In terms of hashtag length, TrackMaven found that hashtags with 18 characters perform best on Twitter, followed by tags with three characters.
This is an odd result - as you can see, the in between engagement of those two peaks is clearly far lower, as is the drop off after 18 characters. My suspicion is that there's a lot of use of longer hashtags in accompaniment with very short ones - for example, when we publish a post, we might use #socialmediamarketing which takes up 20 characters, and then, in that last gap before reaching the 140 character limit, we might throw in #smm with what room we have spare. TrackMaven's findings would suggest that we should go with one or the other - and that one would be #smm, given it's only three characters long.
Hashtags are a crucial part of the Instagram eco-system. You can add in up to 30 hashtags per post, and general advice has been that more is better, with 11 being the optimal number.
TrackMaven found that nine hashtags is the optimal amount for boosting engagement on the platform.
This is also similar to previous findings - as you can see, peak Instagram tag performance comes in that nine to twelve bracket, which indicates that you should be looking to utilize more hashtags on the platform to increase your reach.
In terms of length, TrackMaven found that longer hashtags - between 21 and 24 characters - perform best.
Longer hashtags, and more of them, seems to be the way to go for your Instagram posts.
There's been much debate around the effectiveness of hashtags on Facebook - while you can use them on the platform, they've never really caught on in the same way as they have on other networks. We published a report earlier this year in which we noted that posts with hashtags don't tend to perform as well as those without on Facebook, but there are specific use cases, like events or promotions, where they can be beneficial.
TrackMaven's data shows that one is the optimal hashtag use on Facebook, with engagement falling dramatically after six are included.
In terms of hashtag length, six is the magic number on The Social Network, with the performance of longer tags (10+ characters) performing fairly well up to around 20.
Again, longer hashtags seem to be the way to go - this could be because longer tags attract more attention or provide more context - a tag like #socialmediamarketing offers more explanation of what the reader can expect when they click on it than #smm, which may not be as easy for a general audience to understand.
Whatever the reason, TrackMaven's data highlights that it is worth examining your own hashtag practices and testing out longer tags and tag numbers to see whether you can generate more engagement and response with your posts. As always, it comes down to your unique audience, but wider trends can provide an indicative measure to compare against, and re-assess best practices in line with evolving user behaviors.
You can read the full TrackMaven "Hashtag Strategies for Social Media" report here, which includes more in-depth data and research to support the above noted findings.