Twitter popularized the use of hashtags almost a decade ago, and they have spread to become a vital element of social media marketing ever since. Joining the best hashtags - or starting your own - has become a great way to boost awareness of a brand, increase engagement with it and even improve conversion rates. However, is the hashtag's time in the sun almost over?
Recent statistics have shown that hashtags might be declining in effectiveness, and big brands are taking notice. Most prominently, this has been seen at the 51st Super Bowl; a sporting event that for years has been a major focus for advertisers. The game is one of the most watched sporting events in America, making it a fantastic opportunity to market to a large audience.
This year, a MarketingLand report analyzed the Super Bowl commercials and found that out of the 66 ads shown, only 20 had any hashtags in. That's around 30 per cent, which can be seen as part of an ongoing trend in the declining use of hashtags in the Super Bowl ads.
Use of the tactic peaked in 2014, when 57 per cent of the Super Bowl commercials included hashtags. This decreased in 2015 to 50 per cent, then fell again to 45 per cent last year. This year has seen the most prominent drop in the use of hashtags. It is also the first year that more ads used URLs (39 per cent) than hashtags.
Why is this the case?
One company - Venngage - analyzed over 137,000 tweets and may have found the answer. It thinks the problem is that there is an overabundance of questionable Twitter accounts that make looking at social media data inaccurate.
Out of all the tweets that Venngage looked at, only 35.5 per cent were definitively real. Obviously there is no way to know for sure, but the company rated 56.9 per cent of accounts as "Questionable" due to abnormally high follower/following counts and unusual liking or sharing habits. Furthermore, 7.6 per cent of the accounts Venngage looked at were ZeroSpam accounts, otherwise known as retweet farms.
Does this mean that using hashtags is now pointless?
Not necessarily. They can still be used to drive engagement online, and indeed in many cases they can be seen to be very effective. Look at the recent inauguration of President Trump as an example: in total, it generated around 15 million social media engagements.
Several hashtags played a key part in this. For example, #womensmarch generated 7.3 million engagements, while #inauguration generated another 2.6 million. It's clear that the hashtag is not dead, or even close. However, it seems as if it's declining in effectiveness, and marketers need to consider this when planning their strategies.
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