Are Twitter Hashtags Actually Worthless?

Recently, I came across a blog post insisting that Twitter hashtags are worthless. Since I happen to be an ardent tagger myself and I’m also big on headlines that deliver their promise, I’ve become intrigued by the claim and decided to dive into the article. After I was done reading, I immediately thought of writing a respectful rebuttal, as I don’t quite agree with the author’s main point and the way he tried to support it. Keep on reading to see if Twitter hashtags may still hold some value for your business communication.

In order for you to make the most well-informed decision regarding keeping or dropping the use of Twitter hashtags, I suggest you first read Ryan McCready’s post I linked to above, although I will be referring to its parts here anyway.

Ryan starts off by saying that when Twitter hashtags were first introduced, they served to enrich and facilitate online communication. Now, they’ve become a huge part of the spam problem. Agreed, it’s just that I don’t quite see how that renders hashtags worthless.

In fact, I’d like to argue that Twitter hashtags still have their purpose and aren’t useless at all. If you’re a small to medium business, you can always use tags to extend the reach of your brand while not coming off as being pushy. On the other hand, based on my own experience, it’s not too much of an effort to fight through the incoming spam, which isn’t that bad anyway.

Ryan’s research

The research I’m referring to has gone through a sample of 137,052 tweets over 7 days. This has lead to grouping the examined profiles into three categories:

  • 56.9% were Questionable Twitter accounts, with high follower/following count and odd liking/sharing habits
  • 35.5% were Real Twitter accounts, with organic following, liking and sharing habits
  • 7.6% were ZeroSpam accounts, usually with an extremely small or non-existing following, in other words, these were retweet farms

Now, this is a job well done in purely statistical terms, but I fail to see how the outcome proves that Twitter hashtags are useless. The author’s analysis results mostly in him complaining about millions of fake likes and even more millions of fake shares that ZeroSpam accounts generate, basically asking you to stop using tags.

Well, anyone who’s been on Twitter for a hot minute knows about the existence of this digital noise. Running a business/brand account, you’ve come across this as well. Again though, how does this really impact your presence on the platform, or why should this lead to you stop using Twitter hashtags escapes me.

One valid point that Ryan raises, concerns making business decisions based off the number of likes and/or RTs a tweet may have. Sure, the sheer numbers may create a false impression of a certain piece of content having more value that it actually has. However, are shares and likes the only criteria one takes into consideration before budget allocation? Is that a sufficient reason to deem Twitter hashtags useless?

I do agree with the author about the importance of starting genuine conversations on Twitter, instead of just relying on bare number to measure success. I admit it’s something I have to do more myself. But how do you jump into conversations if not by browsing Twitter hashtags? Especially if you’re a small business with a modest following?

So, are Twitter hashtags actually worthless?

In his research post, Ryan does leave a little room for using Twitter hashtags. Among the situations where he considers them to be useful are promoting events, facilitating live chats, and creating exposure for social initiative.

He then goes on to say ‘for businesses, they are more trouble than they are worth’, which is a gross overstatement in my book, and ‘they look unprofessional’, which again is a point he missed me with.

Speaking from the perspective of a rather small brand, we’ve seen no negative effects at all stemming from using Twitter hashtags. On the contrary, what they help us achieve is:

  • Grow our following.
  • Extend the reach of our communication.
  • Enter our field-related conversations.

In other words, Twitter hashtags help our profile grow and reach potential users with the information on our digital product. With that being said, I’m not sure why should you stop appropriately tagging your tweets.

Have we seen spam and fake likes? Absolutely! It’s volume is by no means as significant, as to prevent us from keep using Twitter hashtags. Only a very naive social media manager would think that all the engagement he sees is genuine and valuable. Some of it is spam, some of it is real. The latter still outweighs the former by a long shot.

Still on the fence about how to proceed?

Toward the end of his post, Ryan suggests the following approaches to using Twitter hashtags:

  • Ditching Twitter – Well, I’m not sure there’s any significant business niche with no potential customers using Twitter, so it should be rather hard for any company to pass on the opportunity to reach them, for free.
  • Remain consistent – What he means by that is that if you’re going to be using Twitter, be serious about it. Don’t employ any bots or other similar solutions that can harm you in the long run – agreed!
  • Never use hashtags – Yeah… I think I’ve made my stance on the issue clear already. Why would you want to limit the reach of your communication, especially when using Twitter hashtags in a non-random and calculated way?
  • Chase engagement, not mere metrics – Couldn’t agree more, however, in some, say, less-fancy sectors, initiating or becoming a part of discussion isn’t easy. That’s where you may want to be humbler about your results and appreciate the sheer reach and new followers that come from using Twitter hashtags properly.

The way I see it, if you’re running a Twitter account, you should take a quick look at the profile if unsure, before following back. Don’t just follow anyone. This way you’ll keep your timeline clean and avoid bots being part of your audience.

I don’t think we should do away with Twitter hashtags altogether just because of spammers abusing them. They’re still useful discussion drivers and information organizers. What may be required instead is a more coordinated effort by Twitter to do something about spam.

My impression when I finished the article was that it took a turn toward bot-bashing and expressing general displeasure with spamming, instead of explaining why Twitter hashtags are worthless.

Conclusions

To wrap it up, let me say I understand the problem of ZeroSpam accounts creating fake impression of value for certain pieces of content, and indeed, it may be frustrating browsing through all the clutter. On the other hand, I reckon that human Twitter users are pretty good at sifting through spam, so it’s not too much of a pain for anyone to do it.

I feel like it’s not that Twitter hashtags are worthless, but they’re often misused for malicious purposes. Sure, there are spammers posing as legit businesses, but to say they’ve rendered hashtags useless is going a bit too far.

Twitter hashtags may now be worth less than they used to be, but by no means they’re worthless to any small to medium business or brand. As I said, they constitute a feature than can be leveraged by social media managers to increase brand awareness and directly reach potential customers without straining the budget.

  • Hi Roman,

    Very interesting post about the usefulness of Twitter hashtags. You made a great point about chasing engagement instead of metrics. If hashtags are used properly, you can reach customers through utilizing engagement opportunities. If a business owner uses hashtags haphazardly, it could almost do more harm to the business than good.

    Thanks for the insight,
    Dennis