We know that hashtags on Facebook tend to stump people. Their usefulness on Twitter and Instagram is obvious—you can plug into any topic and get your content in front of interested users. But over on Facebook, we sometimes neglect them.
But if you’re still thinking about Facebook hashtags like you did in 2009, that’s probably why you’re confused.
As more and more businesses and people got on Facebook, the platform expanded its search functions. Hashtags have now become the new normal. Facebook users now expect to see hashtags, and then use them to discover new content and conversations.
And this has us wondering, can adding a hashtag to your ad boost its overall performance?
We decided to run an experiment to test the importance of hashtags in Facebook ads. Here are the results!
Some Basics About the #Hashtag
We’ve written before about how to create a hashtag that actually boosts your brand. Let’s take a review of some best practices:
- Keep it brief but unique: You don’t want your hashtag to go on forever—too many words strung together and users can’t easily digest the message. If it’s unique, your hashtag will stand out, and you’ll also gain a lot more traction and credit when it gets picked up.
- Evoke an emotion: Pull at the heartstrings. Make them laugh, or cry, or even get them angry. The #SFBatKid was a great example of a hashtag that really took off and promoted Make a Wish with a documentary about one of their participants. A young boy got to dress up as Batman and accompany a full-grown Batman to save the day, all courtesy of the Make a Wish Foundation.
With a brief, unique, and emotional hashtag Make a Wish generated tons of conversation and earned marketing, and we’d guess a huge surge in donations as well.
- Be funny: Hashtags that are either funny, cleverly constructed, or both are much more likely to catch on quickly and spread like wildfire. If it’s funny or clever, it’s often easily catchy, and users will be excited to be a part of it.
- Proofread it and look for hidden meanings: Avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings by thinking through your capitalization. Test it out to make sure you’re good to go by looking at the entire hashtag in lower case letters, looking for hidden words or phrases users could find. It doesn’t hurt to have someone else take a look at it, too.
- Hashtag your event: By creating a hashtag that is specifically for an event, you encourage users to share their experience on social media in real time. Even if they aren’t posting consistently, having a ton of people sharing pictures or statuses about your event, tagged with your hashtag, will give you instant free promotion to what could be other members of your target audience.
- Be prepared: Every now and then something goes awry when users take the hashtag and run with it. Examples include #McDStories, where users really gave their favorite McDonalds stories. All of which seemed to all have a terrible ending, and #AskELJames, where fans were encouraged to ask any questions they’d like to ask the author of “50 Shades of Grey” (you can just imagine how that went).
Now on to our experiment! To explore the value of hashtags, we returned to our Elizabeth Warren vs. Kanye West campaign. When we were testing urgency in a similar campaign, we saw that Facebook users were pretty motivated to click.
We wanted to know, would they be even more motivated when we added a couple hashtags to our ad copy?
We took the same visual mock-up and put that question to the test.
Whatever your political opinions may be, this image is going to draw your attention. With bold, bright colors and no text—just faces—this image plays to your brain’s natural processes that respond to emotional cues in other people’s faces.
The star power in this ad doesn’t hurt either.
Next, we turned to the copy. Instead of dialing up the urgency, as we did in our last experiment we went with a simple call to action.
In an election unlike any other… Who would you pick?
We kept that copy the same in both variations of the ad.
And then we added the hashtags:
We chose these hashtags because they feel familiar. Rather than just tagging #SenatorWarren or #KanyeWest, we’re trying to trigger recognition and clicks. The hashtag #RunWarrenRun was already used (unsuccessfully) to draft her into the 2016 race. And the same construction #RunPoliticianRun is already being used for the 2018 election season.
You’ll notice the only real difference between these two ads is the hashtag because that’s what we’re testing! When A/B testing, you want to isolate just one aspect of the ad to change.
You don’t want different photos, different titles, different share text, and different calls-to-action all at the same time. This way, we know we’re measuring what the addition of the hashtags are doing to engagement with the ads.
We then set up our A/B testing in AdEspresso. Instead of making multiple versions of our ad from scratch, we built up the whole campaign at once.
If you’re testing your ad copy, as we did, all you need to do is click the plus sign button.
Then add in both versions.
Finally, we set up our target audience.
We chose to target young Facebook users in the United States, ages 17-30, people you might assume have more familiarity with Kanye West and Elizabeth Warren.
To nail down our demographic even further, we targeted users who have expressed interest in Kanye or Senator Warren.
All in all, we wanted to reach people who are “likely to engage in politics,” on both ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum.
Overall we found that the version with our #RunWarrenRun and #RunKanyeRun hashtags outperformed the version without them.
The non-hashtagged version still performed well but had fewer impressions and clicks and a lower click-through rate and cost per click.
By adding the hashtags #RunWarrenRun and #RunKanyeRun to our ad, we boosted the click through rate and the total number of impressions. The cost per click is lower by a small, but not an insignificant amount.
The ad without hashtags—our “control” group in the experiment—had a cost per click of $.321 while the ad with hashtags had a lower cost per click of $.301. In fact, the hashtagged ad outperformed the control in every category.
Looking at cost per click (CPC) is important because it shows you if you’re getting your money’s worth.
Basically, hashtags made our ad cheaper, and that can make a big difference down the line. If we were to scale up this campaign and aim for 100,000 overall impressions instead of 3,000, we would be glad to know that hashtags drove down the CPC.
Why Do Hashtags Work Better?
Even if the discoverability factor of hashtags on Facebook is a little different than on Twitter or Instagram, it’s still powerful. When Facebook users click through a hashtag, they see a wealth of content all organized by category.
You can click on #RunWarrenRun and see just the pages, videos, photos, places, associated with that tag:
You can sort by just your friends’ posts or by certain groups. You can also sort by location or time frame. This kind of detailed filtering doesn’t exist on Twitter and Instagram, and it makes the hashtag experience on Facebook feel a bit more adventurous and a bit more organized.
No one is only on one social media platform. A good hashtag sparks a conversation that’s fast-moving and cross-platform. On Facebook, with all these filtering options, that conversation becomes easier and more engaging to follow.
You can see what hashtags your friends are chiming in on and sharing. You can look at just photos or just videos. What’s more, users who discover content through hashtags are more likely to engaged with it. They’ve sought it out themselves.
As Facebook users become more familiar and comfortable with all the filtering options, it’s easy to see why a hashtag on our ad would make them click. Just by adding a hashtag, we offered users a window into all the other conversation happening about Elizabeth Warren and Kanye West.
Test It Out Yourself
On Facebook, hashtags are points of entry to ongoing conversations. Using them in your ads is an invitation for users to join in. You still don’t want to go overboard and start tagging things left and right. Remember: keep it brief and unique.
But hashtags are indeed a powerful feature on Facebook. Using them in your ads can boost your clicks, lower your CPC, and plug you into ongoing conversations.
Fire up an A/B test and get started!