One of the perennial questions asked by social media marketers is, how much do hashtags matter? Should we use them? How many? After all, we’ve all see Instagram posts that are #unreadable #because #of #how #many #hashtags #are #crammed #into #the #post. Is this effective?

The first question we have to ask is, what’s the purpose of a hashtag? Often, marketers will say it’s discovery – someone searching for #machinelearning could find posts of people they’re not connected to. Thus, reach or views would be the desired outcome from using hashtags.

How could we prove or disprove the effectiveness of hashtags? The ideal method would be to look at posts by hashtag count and see what attributes of the post create the outcome we want – reach/views. Fortunately, this is a findable insight. To do this, we extracted the most recent posts from top Facebook and Instagram accounts. Let’s see what matters.

Facebook Posts and Hashtags

We collected 1,799,355 Facebook posts from 10,963 Facebook Pages with a median number of 213,148 fans/connections from January 6 – February 15, 2019. The pages were selected based on the recommendations of top Pages to follow by Crowdtangle (a Facebook company).

The mean number of hashtags used was .2577 per post, while the median was 0 and the maximum number of hashtags in one post was 124.

What matters most to get Facebook reach/views?

Facebook Hashtag Impact

Using the gradient boosting machine learning method, we determined that post length had the highest relationship to reach, followed closely by shares, and then subsequently by the various types of reactions. Hashtag count played no statistically relevant role in Facebook post reach.

The conclusion for Facebook: hashtags do no harm, but they don’t help either for expanding reach.

Instagram Posts and Hashtags

We collected 1,590,037 Instagram posts from 33,637 Instagram accounts with a median number of 233,406 followers from January 6 – February 15, 2019. The accounts were selected based on the recommendations of top Instagram accounts to follow by Crowdtangle (a Facebook company).

The mean number of hashtags used was 3.141 per post, while the median was 1.0 hashtags per post, and the maximum number of hashtags in one post was 93.

What matters most to get Instagram views?

Instagram Post Views Impact Hashtags

Using the gradient boosting machine learning method, we determined that comments had the highest relationship to Instagram post views, followed by the size of an account’s following, and then likes. Despite a higher usage of hashtags on Instagram, they still had no statistical relationship to views, indicating that they do not substantially contribute to discovery.

The conclusion for Instagram: while it also causes no harm, and assuming it doesn’t add cumbersome, resource-intensive processes to your Instagram marketing, hashtags are not going to bring floods of people to your account.

Other Networks?

While other networks such as YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter use hashtags, we’re unable to get reach/view data for those networks in order to do an apples-to-apples comparison right now. As we gain access to software which allows us cross-account data insights, we’ll update this post with new information, but for now we can definitively provide guidance only on Instagram and Facebook.

Conclusion: Hashtags Neither Hurt nor Help

If you already use hashtags as part of your creative process, and it doesn’t cost you significant time or resources to do so, there’s no harm in continuing to do it. We would recommend running an identical analysis to the above for your account specifically, to see how your particular audience reacts to different types of content and descriptions.

If you invest substantial time in hashtag research and identification for Facebook and Instagram, it’s safe to pull back some of your resources and devote them to other, more high-value tasks.

Christopher S. Penn
Cofounder, Trust Insights


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